Inside Man was released in 2006 to critical and box office success. It was something of a surprise for Spike Lee to be making a genre film, but his fingerprints all over the film, making it a surprisingly rich heist flick. As time has gone by, it looks to be somewhat forgotten. It doesn’t seem to be brought up a lot in cinephile circles or anytime that Spike Lee does a new movie. Maybe people didn’t find it as transcendental, but compared to a lot of fun but forgettable movies, there’s quite a bit to chew on in Inside Man.
The movie tells the story of Detective Frazier (Denzel Washington) attempting to negotiate the rescue of hostages of a bank robbery while a power broker hired by the bank’s founder, tries to influence the outcome of the heist, as he needs something in his safe deposit box protected. The movie is entertaining from start to finish, with huge twists and surprises in nearly every scene. The cast is rock-solid with Washington giving Frazier a humane, relatable approach as a dedicated detective who struggles with commitment in his love life. Clive Owen is fantastic as the lead thief Dalton Russell, simultaneously frightening and charismatic. Even when his face is completely covered up we get a great sense of the character. Jodie Foster also brings a quality performance as Madeleine White, the power broker. But one of the best aspects of the movie is the ensemble of supporting characters. When you have the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Willem Dafoe in the supporting cast, you know that Spike Lee took the casting seriously.
Lee’s directing here is top notch. He shoots in a near-documentary style that makes us feel like we’re right in the middle of the robbery ourselves. His dynamic choices for camera angles and movements also spice things up in a movie where essentially we’re in two locations: Inside and outside. On top of that, there are a few quirky, punchy touches to the soundtrack, such as the use of “Chaiyaa Chaiyaa”, a song from the Bollywood movie Dil Se to underscore the opening titles and end credits.
But perhaps what’s all the more surprising about the movie is how it manages to be rich in themes. In broad but impacting strokes, the movie touches on guilt, revenge, racism, sexism and corruption, all in the backdrop of a post-9/11 New York City. This is perhaps Lee’s greatest touch to the film and what most makes it be more than a mere popcorn movie.
If you haven’t watched Inside Man, be sure to check it out on Blu-Ray as soon as possible.