Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, and Christopher Plummer
Director: Spike Lee
Rating: Six of Ten Stars
A bank robbery turns into a hostage situation, but during the siege, Detective Frazier (Washington) starts to suspect that robbers wanted to be cornered in the bank. As he attempts to solve this puzzle (and get the hostages out safely), the bank's owner (Plummer) hires a mysterious power-broker (Foster) to protect dark secrets he's hiding in a safe deposit box.
"Inside Man" is a crime thriller with some great ideas at its heart, and a decent script, but one which is ultimately done in by the filmmakers' wanting to tell the story out of order for no discernible reason.
It's obvious to all but the stupidest of viewers how the robbers intend to get out of the bank when they insist on everyone dressing like they are dressed. It likewise becomes obvious that the bank robbers will get away once the billionaire's secret comes to light--"murder will out", as one character says. There was no need for Lee and the screenwriter to reassure the intelligent viewer they've already guessed where the story is going (and to blow it for the stupid ones) by interspersing snippets of interrogations after the situation has resolved itself with the unfolding story to show how the seige turned out.
The film also suffers from an ending that just sort of dribbles to its conclusion instead of ending with a nice, solid moment. Denouements are a must for most films, but here we have two of them... and one is just plain dull. Perhaps Lee figured the viewer would care about Detective Frazier's homelife and how things were looking up for him in the future... but if so, he should have taken another look at the script.
"Inside Man" is a decent crime thriller, but its a thriller populated by stock characters. There isn't a character in the film that hasn't appeared in dozens of movies like this before--the only way Frazier could be more stereotypical was if he was divorced instead of engaged--and there isn't a character in the film where even a half-hearted attempt is made to develop some real depth or shades of originality.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, because films like this are plot-driven rather than character driven, but it seems that Lee thought his characters were actual characters that the viewer would care about once all the mysteries of the story are resolved. They aren't. This is an enjoyable and competently made thriller (that almost qualifies as a heist movie, but not quite, despite what some critics claimed), but it's not a film that will stay with you, nor is it one that's worth seeing more than once. It's dead-even average.
Frankly, as average as this film is, I suspect that if it hadn't been directed by Spike Lee, there would have been a lot fewer positive reviews of it... this film's high marks can be credited to the Emperor's New Clothes Effect. ("Gosh! It's a Spike Lee movie! I don't even have to see it to know it's good, so if the press-kit calls it a heist movie, I'll go with that! If I don't slobber all over it, I'm not a real movie critic!")