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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Inside Man (2006)

In my review of "Matchpoint," I noted how wonderful it was that Woody Allen, for the first time in almost 10 years, had finally returned to form with a truly great film. Now, with "Inside Man," Spike Lee reminds us of his tremendous skill. He is in great form here, seamlessly combining a classic crowd-pleasing heist story with contemporary messages about racial and cultural intolerance. The film stars Clive Owen as the brilliant bank robber and Denzel Washington as Detective Frazier, a good cop whose career is in jeopardy due to a departmental scandal. Owen and his cohorts rob the Manhattan Trust on Wall Street. Detective Frazier and his partner (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are called in to deal with the hostage negotiations. The bank's President played by Christopher Plummer, who is very concerned that something private in his bank will be discovered and used against him. Jodie Foster plays Madeline, a mystery woman of notorious discretion and moral flexibility who handles delicate affairs for the world's most despicable people.
Everything about this film is clever, from the friendly banter between Washington and Owen to the real meaning of the title "Inside Man." This is the real New York, the New York filled with every kind of person imaginable from every cultural background and socioeconomic stratum. One of the most enjoyable scenes features Washington trying to translate the language supposedly being spoken by the bank robbers. Rather than going to the language experts, he consults the people on the street, only to discover a construction worker who informs him that it's "100% Albanian." The worker, however, does not speak Albanian--his ex wife is Albanian. So the cops call his ex-wife and have her translate. In one small scene, Lee manages to convey his melting pot picture of his hometown--a town where you're better off asking the man on the street than you are calling the consulate-- while being immensely entertaining. The construction worker is just one of many entertianing supporting characters--we also meet a Rabbi/diamond expert, a corrupt mayor, countless blatantly racist police officers, a Sikh who is understandably pissed about being repeatedly mistaken for Arab and a dorky middle-aged bank manager with a Kanye West ringtone. The plot is smart and satisfactory, and the cast provides all the icing a moviegoing audience could possible want.

The amount of money I would pay to see this film: $10


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