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.
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.
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.
Copyright Web del Sol, 2006