A slow-burning, old school thriller about executing the perfect crime (and enjoying every minute of it).
Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) has the perfect plan; to do what, exactly, is the question. Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) lucks into the on-scene negotiator for the NYPD, but it isn’t long before he suspects more is going on that just a bank robbery turned hostage crisis. Madeline White (Jodie Foster) is a special negotiator for discreetly handling things too hot for others. The doors are locked, the guns have been drawn, the hostages have been taken, the streets are cornered off, and the plan is in motion; let the game begin.
Directed by Spike Lee (yeah, that’s right: Jungle Fever, 25th Hour), films with a premise like Inside Man are usually the kind of Thomas Crown Affair movie for 50-year+ old actors that seem to drag on for hours without end and without purpose. The difference here is INTENSITY; with hints of a hard-boiled detective story, smart use (and understanding) of modern technology, and characters that actually think and react as they move around each other like chess pieces, this is the thinking person’s thriller. Clues and details are everywhere; the script smartly avoids potentially unrealistic situations to lend even more credibility to the story.
Clive Owen proves once again he should have been the next James Bond; if the upcoming Casino Royale bombs, Sony would be stupid not to call him (if you look up “intense” in the dictionary, you’ll currently find a picture of Mr. Owen). In contrast, Denzel Washington downplays his Man of Fire single-mindedness and plays it cool, spotting an intellectual adversary in Owen determined to get under his skin by not letting it get to him. The addition of Jodie Foster’s character adds a third dimension and distraction to the game, but also provides opportunity for both men and her own capacity for villainy.
Each scene in Inside Man is a calculation, either applying pressure or fortifying a defense. When the first opponent blinks, everything is set into motion as promised and the real purpose for everything is revealed; patience is the payoff and the intensity is the treat. The very worst thing I can say about this film is that I can’t describe anything more without giving away exactly what you’d want to get out of a film like this. That said, I hope this film does well enough that someone else in Hollywood thinks, “Hmm… audiences were able to follow that and enjoyed it. Perhaps we could make more films like it!”
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)