After seeing this movie it became clear to me what low expectations I have from Hollywood films these days. This film was a solid, well written, well acted, intricately plotted action flick, and I realized I hadn’t seen anything like it since…well…since a very long time. It’s not quite as good as Die Hard, but it’s better than Collateral, to give you an idea of where I’d put it in this genre. It’s a bit unfair to compare anything to Die Hard, since that’s the film that both defined this genre and has ruled as the best intelligent action picture ever made ever since, IMHO.
However, Inside Man is right up there. First of all, it was astonishingly refreshing to see Denzel Washington not play Denzel Washington for the first time in a long time. Here he plays an NYPD hostage negotiator who gets pulled into a Dog-Day-Afternoon-like standoff at a bank robbery that isn’t what it appears to be. Denzel’s character is extremely competent, but he’s not a super-sleuth or a John McClane-like bad-ass. However, he uses a combination of his instincts, street-smarts, and determination as he attempts to unravel the mysteries with which he is presented.
Also refreshing to see is Jodie Foster, looking exactly her age, playing a character her age, showing wrinkles and laugh lines and looking spectacular doing it. Not only that, but she plays an amazingly amoral “consultant” who helps people’s problems go away. Her character can be summed up by noting that after she has blackmailed the Mayor of New York City into doing what she wants, he responds by saying “You, my dear, are a magnificent cunt.” And she is.
Clive Owen and Christopher Plummer also both shine in their roles, and the supporting cast is nearly perfect. All of this is directed with flair by Spike Lee, and also with a bit of Spike Lee-iness. There are some trademark shots and scenes that mark this as a Spike Lee Joint, but he has proven here that he can deliver the big-studio, big-budget, big-grossing ($66 million and counting) hit, while still making a great film. That skill seems to have escaped most directors today.
I’m curious if Spike was able to leverage his status as a premier director to keep control of his film and maintain the intricate and sometimes nearly opaque plotting. My take is that today’s studio execs fear films that challenge audiences to pay attention and think, and instead seem to reflexively add in slow-motion kung fu, slow-motion gunplay (with pistols held sideways in that “cool” way), techno-music-driven flash-cut montages in nightclubs run by the bad guys, any time they think a film is getting too cerebral.
In any case, I really liked this film, and if you’re a fan of action movies that challenge you to keep up and don’t mind that there’s not any kung fu or sex, then this might be a film you’ll enjoy.