Spike Lee directs Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster in this Manhattan heist movie.
Spike is a director famous for his racially charged dramas and visual experimentation. Over the 1980s and 1990s he pushed how films looked and felt, he translated anger, injustice and black culture into a form that felt as valid in the multiplex and rental stores as it did the arthouse cinemas. Although Clockers and 25th Hour had shades of noir in them, Inside Man was his first purebred genre film. A Hollywood crime movie – slick, glossy, starry, twisty, action-y. If you approached as just another mid budget release you’d be happy. Denzel! Jodie! Clive! All three don’t phone it in even if they are unstretched by the material. Sometimes it is nice to see what an auteur does if the pressure is off and he just wants to make a throwaway opening weekend number one movie. Spike Lee makes a Phone Booth or a The Negotiator or a 15 Minutes. And if you are a fan of SWAT teams securing the area, well laid plans, moderate conspiracies and tense stand-offs then Inside Man will fill your Friday night better than most studio products. But you can still see Spike the Icon in every scene, he somehow still infuses his mindset and vision into this, making a five finger exercise something more than just that. Refusing to be a paycheck player, refusing to just submit a piece of hacky entertainment. We have his trademark symbolic camera moves deployed to allow us deeper into the lead’s emotional states. We have his slightly more realistic view of a diverse New York. All cultures are represented and it doesn’t seem in anyway Season 10 of Friends forced. We have his worldview that cops and robbers, bankers and power players all have villainy and hate in them. And even in a mere popcorn pusher there’s no need to “dial back the color commentary”, no need to forgive the value system where the powerful man never sees justice. Inside Man is a great con job… our bad guys pull the wool over our eyes, the good guys morph as the plot needs to get us to a satisfying closure and our director hides his agit-prop in plain sight, improving a perfectly accessible thriller through sheer force of personality.