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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Inside Man

As soon as I saw the trailer for Inside Man around Christmas time I knew it was a “must see” movie. With a cast as bright as Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Plummer and a director as powerful as Spike Lee this had to be a blockbuster. So after what seemed like months (well, come to think of it, it was months), Inside Man opened at the Essex Cinemas this week and I was there for the first showing. Armed with my usual swimming pool sized Diet Pepsi I was set to be dazzled. 129 minutes later I found myself wondering what were they thinking?

Don’t get me wrong. Inside Man is enormously entertaining. It starts off as a high octane action thriller as Clive Owen’s Dalton Russell and his gang burst in during a typically busy day at a Manhattan Bank, full of customers, and declare that they are there to rob the place. Within minutes they have secured the building and ushered the customers, now hostages, into seclusion after stripping them of their cell phones and their clothing, forcing them to dress in
jump suits identical to the robbers themselves.

Meanwhile weary NYPD detective Keith Frazier (Washington) is assigned the lead in the case despite his reticence to be the man in charge. He is currently under investigation through Internal Affairs about another case and is feeling very unsure about his status within the department, but his commander assures him that this is his opportunity to show he is still a valuable member of the force. Okay, that’s the nice version. He actually tells him it’s an order and to get off his ass and go. Hey, it’s New York, folks. You were expecting flowers and an engraved invitation to the party?

So Frazier and his lapdog, er, sidekick, er, fellow detective Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Serenity; Four Brothers) go to the bank where they meet up with Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe; Spiderman; The Aviator), who has set up a snappy little center of operations in a trailer that is only lacking pink lawn flamingos to make it feel like home. Bickering ensues as to who is in charge, but once the cock fight is over and Denzel shows Dafoe his paycheck, everything is copasetic and the cast
knows who is starring in this movie once again. Denzel talks to Owen, who, regrettably, spends nearly the entire movie with a mask and sunglasses covering his face, which seems odd considering his biggest attribute as an actor is his good looks. All things considered, Spike probably could have saved a lot of money if he’d gotten someone who’s used to wearing a mask and would work for peanuts. I mean, Adam West isn’t exactly the busiest actor in Hollywood these days. He opens supermarkets, for god’s sakes! Anyway, Frazier and Russell talk a lot but nothing happens. And then some more nothing happens and then a little more nothing happens. Why, so little happens that Spike even manages to use this 'down time' to throw in a public service announcement about kids and violent video games in the middle of the (yawn) "action". Seriously. I kid you not. Later, when the police try to match the female member of the robbing team by the size of her breasts from all the women inside the bank (her face had been covered, remember?) I half-expected Spike to toss in an advisory that all women over the age of 40 should get yearly mammograms, but I guess that would have been a turn-off to the men watching as the camera focused squarely on the firm double-Ds in close-up.

Finally Frazier catches on that maybe Russell isn’t in any big hurry to grab the cash and flee the bank, but he can’t figure out why. Obviously there is some other reason he is in the bank, but the question is why?

Enter Christopher Plummer as the owner and founder of the bank. The former Captain Von Trapp from The Sound of Music is now aged, rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and nervous as hell about what is going on inside his bank, so he calls on Madeleine White (Jodie Foster) to ensure that what is bothering him is kept secret. He even balks at telling her what she is protecting, just that her job is to get the robbers out of the bank ASAP without disturbing his safety deposit box.

Madeleine is by far the most interesting character if only because she is the most mysterious and the most powerful. Her ability to demand whatever she wants from whomever she meets and get it without so much as raising her voice leaves the viewer wondering just what dirt this woman must have on all the powers that be that run this city. She interrupts the mayor’s lunch to tell him she needs to be inside the bank where the hostages are is initially met with incredulity but a simple “Do it” from her and by the time she gets from the restaurant to the bank she is escorted like royalty by the police to the front door. Once inside, she sparkles with her rhetoric and her offers that circumvent the entire legal system by guaranteeing trial outcomes, sentencing, compensation waiting on the other end and miscellaneous perks. Coming from anyone else this would probably sound like a load of crap, but with Madeleine you know she can make it happen.

From here the story begins to lose wind. The build-up to what the BIG SECRET is just doesn’t justify the drama, and it makes all this fuss seem like… well, like a lot of fuss. When Madeleine asks Russell how he found out the secret (which has been kept locked away in the safety deposit box for decades) he says “It’s not important” and dismisses it with a wave of the hand. Hello? I think it’s important. The whole story is based on this one secret and it makes no sense that Russell somehow found out and nobody else in the world ever has. There also doesn’t seem to be any reason for Russell to care about the secret other than to use it for blackmail purposes, but why bother with that? In order to get his proof from the box he's just broken into a bank and is literally sitting on bundles of cash. He's got access to millions of dollars as well as a wall of other safety deposit boxes full of jewelry and who-knows-what and he is ignoring all of that for something that he might use later? It doesn't make any sense.

And what of Detective Frazier? He must be getting tired sitting outside listening to a dead Albanian President speech over and over.

By the end of Inside Man I found myself more frustrated than satisfied. The letdown about the
reason for the heist and the lack of big finale for Denzel’s character, our main man throughout, left me wanting more. As for Russell and Madeleine, their futures could be far more interesting than what we are left to imagine Frazier’s being, but we are given no hints of what may happen to them. In Russell’s case this just seems like a loose end; with Madeleine it seems like a shame as she could easily carry her own film, which would no doubt be much more interesting on the whole than this one.

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