“More like taking a shower with two guys named Jamal and Jesus, if you know what I mean.”
Spike Lee has made some amazing movies, like Do the Right Thing, and Malcolm X and The 25th Hour. He’s also made some real shit bombs, like Miracle at St Anna and Girl 6. But good or bad, I always think of Spike Lee as a dude who makes “Important” movies. Spike Lee doesn’t have things he wants to say with his movies, he has things he wants to shout with this movies. Which is why Inside Man has always struck me as such an anomaly in his filmography. Without seeing the actual movie, the trailers made it look like too much fun to be a Spike Lee joint. Too much of a genre, suspense or even action movie to be a Spike Lee Joint. Too much of an escapist piece of pure entertainment to be a Spike Lee joint. All of these things make it sound like a really enjoyable movie. Which is why it’s only taken me nine years to finally watch Inside Man.
Addressing the camera, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) lets us know that he planned the perfect bank robbery. A perfect bank robbery that we see played out as Russell and his men invade a bank one morning, dressed in painter’s overalls and masks. Forcing their hostages to wear matching overalls and masks, the idea of identity and mistaken identity is immediately setup as the key to his plan. As robbers and hostages are constantly mixed, matched and mingled, the robbers are able to disappear into the crowd in some way before the heist is even complete.
Getting the call when the robbery in progress is reported, is Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington). It’s his last day in the precinct before moving on up to a promotion. Along with Detective Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and police Captain Johan Darius (Willem Dafoe), they take charge of negotiations, trying to play along with Russell’s riddles and games long enough to get to the bottom of his plan and save the hostages.
Meanwhile, the bank’s President (Christopher Plummer as Arthur Case) seems a little paranoid about what the robbers may be after, or what may be discovered in the aftermath. So he hires fixer Madeleine White (Jodie Foster) to make her own attempts at abating the situation through not so official. All the while, the story flashes back and forth between the robbery, and the ensuing interrogations as Frazier tries to differentiate the hostages from the perpetrators.
Inside Man is the kind of move that gets viewers looking suspiciously for a twist early on. But it also knows that’s it’s audience is looking for that twist. Not only that, Inside Man knows that you know, that it knows, that you’re looking for a twist. And because of that, it loads on the twists and hints and double crosses. It’s a great plot to make you think you have it all figured out, just before pulling the rug out from under you. Which it does again and again and again.
For all of that, Inside Man delivers a great, fun ride, but I don’t expect the thrill to last long. While the final payoff was enough to make me go, “Huh. That as kind of cool. I guess”, it‘s in no way the kind of twist that made me think I need to re-watch Inside Man with that ending in hindsight to see what intricate little clues I missed. But that’s OK. Not every movie has to be Fight Club or The Sixth Sense. Sometimes, a quick, easy fix is all you need.