Universal // 2006 // 129 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 15th, 2007
It looked like the perfect bank robbery. But you can't judge a crime by its cover.
Spike Lee's latest joint is one of the coolest heist movies in a while and one of the director's most entertaining films in an even longer while.
Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington, Training Day), an experience hostage negotiator, is called into his most bizarre case yet. A group of masked individuals, led by even-keel and wicked smart Dalton Russell (Clive Owen, Children of Men), have taken a bank and its employees hostage.
As Frazier and the police attempt to work through the crisis, a power broker named Madeleine White (Jodie Foster, Panic Room) is dispatched by the bank's owner to see that a sensitive item is withheld from both the police and the hijackers.
I haven't paid much attention to Spike Lee in a long time, but with this film he deserves a ton of credit for fashioning a thriller that is refreshingly light on heavy-handed social philosophizing and heavy on fun. Easily the most "mainstream" of his films, discussions of race and prejudice and bigotry and social injustice are largely left aside, replaced by swift storytelling, interesting characters and a humdinger of a plot.
Inside Man is a heist film and as everyone knows (by everyone, I mean "me") a heist film is only as good as its heist. With the recent glut of this genre landing in theatres, does Spike Lee and first-time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz's take separate itself from the masses? You bet. From the compelling opening minutes to the prolonged, but wholly satisfying denouement, Inside Man is a gripping tale, marked with huge twists and major reveals that have come to be expected in these kinds of excursions. To keep it vague and avoid spoilers, let me must say this: no disappointments in the story department.
Neither are there disappointments in the acting department. This is a killer lineup and yeah Denzel still does his Denzel thing -- but man if it's not awesome no matter how many times he's the essentially same character in his films -- Clive Owen is dependably awesome as the (questionably villainous) villain and Jodie Foster nails the assertive, professional "fixer" role. Strong supporting work from Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetal Ejiofor further classes up the joint.
If there's one nagging criticism that could pop up is the extended ending. Though it didn't bother me at all, the narrative momentum changes pace drastically with about twenty minutes left. Here, exposition resides as Frazier attempts to unravel the mystery of the heist and White ties up her own loose ends. It's part of the story that needs to be told and it's all good, but I could see where some viewers would grow antsy.
All in all, Inside Man is still very good, a whip-smart heist film that doesn't depend on self-referential humor from privileged Hollywood celebrities or a fleet of Mini Coopers for its entertainment power: rather top-shelf acting , a compelling story and a surprisingly even-handed directorial effort from Spike Lee carry the day.
I have to confess I wasn't bowled over by this high-definition release. While the picture quality is certainly an upgrade from the standard DVD issue, I don't think it's that dramatic an improvement to merits must-watchability, especially when you consider there are no hi-def-only extras. Transferred in VC-1 encoded, 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen, the new version of Inside Man has its moments -- and Jodie Foster has never looked better -- but I found the overall look a bit too soft for the ultra-sharp HD era. It might be nitpicky, but I've been used to being wowed with my HD-DVDs and this one was lacking the punch. The audio on the other hand is quite good, sporting a TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus mix, both of which really pound, especially when all Hell breaks loose.
The recycled extras are nifty and all -- a commentary by Spike Lee where he makes up for his politically-neutral filming style with some provocative and borderline-infantile observations, the making-of Inside Man, short, but well-done peek behind the scenes of the production, 20 minutes worth of deleted scenes, a one-on-one conversation between Lee and Washington, my favorite of the bunch -- but, still, they're recycled.
Great movie, solid picture, great sound, redundant extras: a net gain for Inside Man on HD-DVD.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Behind the Scenes
* Spike Lee and Denzel Washington Feature
* Behind-the-Scenes on the Chucky Films