"Inside Man"
Dir: Spike Lee

Patricia Ducey

Spike Lee’s Inside Man proves that a movie doesn’t necessarily have to make sense to be enjoyable. This stylish The Usual Suspects-type heist film at the end provides no explanation for its elaborate scenario, but by the time we get there, we’ve had so much fun we don’t much care. While film buffs argued for months about Keyser Soze, Dalton Russell’s (Clive Owen) motivation in Inside Man will forever remain an enigma. Lee surprisingly begins the film in Russell’s prison cell (unfortunately telegraphing the failure of the heist). He tells us that while he is in prison, he’s not really in prison—quite enigmatic, and promising plot as explanation. But Lee doesn’t deliver.

His Manhattan-based films, though, always pulsate with the life affirming cacophony of the boroughs making them eminently watchable. Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, most of his oeuvre, in fact, are paeans to his home base, and Inside Man with an opening montage of New York vistas wide and small, is no different. In addition, Lee eschews stock characters and filmic clichés that sink thrillers like The Interpeter and instead populates his New York with Bronx-accented beat cops and working stiffs of all ethnicities, as well as Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) who worries about a promotion, a marriage-minded girlfriend, but who also relishes a battle of wits with a worthy match like Russell.

The script falters, however, with a couple of notable distractions. First, Jodie Foster’s character, a rich uber-political fixer named Madeline White, snags a co-op for one of her clients, a bin Laden nephew, and cadges favors from the mayor for another client, the bank owner, with veiled political threats. Who is this person? She slips in and out of the movie like the contrivance she is, and Lee never explains the source of her power. More glaring is Christopher Plummer’s character, bank owner Arthur Chase. Plummer plays him at an advanced age, cane and all, but Case is still decades too young to play a Jew who got his financial start by collaborating with the Nazis in 30s Germany.

First time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz, though, gives us crackling good dialogue whipping us back and forth between humor and tension, with the confrontations between Washington and Owen particularly effective. Whether the script’s plot holes are filled in his earlier drafts, I suppose we will never know.

Lee’s creation, his visual and aural New York, remains his crowning achievement. Even in the face of racism or poverty, his city positively vibrates with the life force--a joi de vivre that has earned him criticism by some for romanticizing Harlem, for instance, in Do The Right Thing. But Lee, to his credit, refuses to infuse his films with the ennui and moral paralysis that passes for complexity in films today. Inside Man once again turns urban misery into music, like jazz, and is thus worth a look and a listen.

-- Patricia Ducey

Copyright Web del Sol, 2006

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