When Dalton Russell claims that he recently “planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery,” I admit I was intrigued, especially because of his alluring British accent. I expected the kind of jaw dropping cleverness that would keep me glued to the screen. Unfortunately, on a shock value scale the film promises Ocean’s 11 but delivers Ocean’s 12. Fortunately, I didn’t care because so much is going on during Inside Man that the heist plot turns out to be an afterthought.
Inside Man takes off as mastermind Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) heads to the Wall Street branch of the fictional Manhattan Trust bank with three masked comrades all disguised as painters. Within seconds, Russell proves to be one step ahead of the system as he skillfully blinds the security cameras and subsequently lays siege to the bank. He then corals his hostages on a lower level of the bank, insisting that they all change into the same uniforms as he and his accomplices are wearing. So far, I’m impressed.
Meanwhile, Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and his partner are called to the scene to help negotiate safe passage for the hostages. At this point, something is missing from the movie - oh that’s right, an annoying female power player. Enter Madeline White (Jodie Foster) an upper class fixer, hired by the bank’s founder Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) to ensure that some of his dirty laundry doesn’t get exposed during the robbery. Madeline uses some of Frazier’s dirty laundry to blackmail him into letting her help out, and then he blackmails her right back to get a promotion at work. And amidst all this laundry being hung out to dry, Russell is robbing the bank, or so it seems.
So did Russell succeed in executing the perfect crime? Well sure, if you find it plausible that he just happened to know what was hidden in Case’s safety deposit box and that the box even existed when it is not listed on any bank records. Sure it’s the perfect crime, considering the workers at the bank just happened to leave the vault opened and left the keys to the non existent safety deposit box lying around. And sure, when Russell explains his vast knowledge by claming that “bad deeds stink,” which translates to, "the writers had no idea how I would figure this out so they are just going to force you to suspend your disbelief." Consider it done.
By the time the lackluster ending is revealed, you’re not really concerned about the heist anyway. I mean was anyone really paying attention to the robbery after seeing the 50-Cent idolizing boy’s video game where you “get points for doing dirt, like jacking a car or selling crack, and you lose points if someone jacks your car or shoots you?” Because what Inside Man really offers is a subtle, take note Paul Haggis, a subtle exploration of racism in a post 9-11 New York City. These wonderful little vignettes of race relations are encased in some of the most realistic dialogue ever seen on screen and spoken by characters that you can’t help but get behind despite their flaws. Save Jodie Foster’s Madeline who ultimately is a useless character and remains perfectly annoying throughout. And with typical Spike Lee humor, like a large breasted suspect asking if she’s “violated section 34-DD,” the film stays light and fun, so that you never feel like you are being moralized to. Now if we were watching Crash , the cops would kill the “Arab” hostage who is actually a Sikh and then the racist police officer would make up for it by saving Frazier from the evil white bank robbers. Fortunately for the audience, this was a Spike Lee joint, and so much more than a traditional heist movie with moments that will make you laugh, think and okay, my jaw dropped a little too.
This AC-3 formatted widescreen edition of Inside Man came with enough special features to keep me justifying buying DVD’s over ordering Movies-on-Demand. You are offered the option of watching the film with commentary by Director Spike Lee, and I have to say, it was the first time I’ve ever actually been interested in DVD commentary. Lee offers the right blend of camera shot explanations for film buffs, insight into unscripted scenes, and funny anecdotes like how he decided to work with Willem Dafoe after peeing next to him at Denzel’s play opening. For some reason I think only Spike Lee can offer someone a role over a urinal and still make it sound appealing.
The disk also offers a making-of featurette, which is unique in that it actually shows some behind the scenes moments rather than just gratuitously replaying the movie while the cast makes lame comments about how much they enjoyed working with each other blah blah blah. The best clip is from the first read through of the script when Spike asks the cast to introduce themselves and Denzel says, “Hi I’m Denzel, and I’m playing Frazier.” Like anyone doesn’t know he’s Denzel. I’d like to meet the person who’s like, “Oh sorry, can you repeat your name? I couldn’t hear you in the back.”
There is then a fun segment between Spike and Denzel where they discuss the four projects they have done together, which is basically them saying, “we’re the greatest” but they are, so it works out. And lastly, the DVD offers 6 deleted scenes, most of which you are glad they omitted. However, there is an interesting take on the interrogation scenes which were scattered throughout the movie, a questionable move by Lee since it completely eliminates any element of suspense about the robbers getting away. But after watching the long and somewhat boring sequence of all the interrogations cut together, I realized why Lee chose to intersperse them instead.
The DVD is offered with Dolby Digital 5.1 so you can really dig the interesting soundtrack which is filled with subtle homage’s to films like Patton and Bollywood musicals, and is dubbed for your listening entertainment in both French and Spanish. I like to watch it in Spanish with French subtitles, just to mix it up.
The only thing missing from this DVD was a chance to play that crazy video game and earn some points for selling crack.