INSIDE MAN

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

                A gaggle of self-absorbed people run around the screen in “Inside Man.”  Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) tells us immediately that he is about to commit the “perfect crime.”  Captain John Darius (Willem DaFoe) wants to keep the investigation for himself.  Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), who has an undefined cloud hanging over his career, wants to redeem himself and gain a promotion to detective, first class.  Madeline White (Jodie Foster) is a world class problem solver who is so good she doesn’t even need a support system, an office, or business cards.  She just materializes, knows everything, and fixes things.

                There is fun to be had in this movie – mainly watching prime actors at the peak of their trade.  But director Spike Lee made one bad mistake:  he forgets to cut the audience in on the plot.  How can we stay engaged without morsels and clues?  You will likely leave the theater wondering what you have just seen.   Best advice here:  sit back and enjoy the players.

                A gang of four strolls into the Manhattan Trust bank in the uniforms of a painting crew, throws down a smoke bomb, and announces – or at least I think I remember these words, “This is a holdup.”  It has been a long time since we’ve heard that phrase – especially at high noon in the middle of a lunchtime crowd.  Or is that precisely what they want?

                The thieves force the hostages to strip to their underwear (enough to reduce one tubby middleager to furious refusal) and don outfits identical to those of the robbers.  And I’ll say these are the best robber outfits I’ve seen:  hooded black suits and white spandex face masks topped by dark glasses.  Now everyone is the same, no telling a hostage from a crook.  The stage has been set and we are eager participants. 

                Quite suddenly, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), chairman of the board of the Manhattan Trust, summons Madeline White (Jodie Foster).  The meeting between the two is a high point in sophisticated assumption.  Mr. Case needs to know the contents of his own safe deposit box will never fall into hands other than his own.  Madeline, awash in earned self confidence, assures him that it won’t.  The stage has been set, and we’re all eager for the ride, but after the first enticing hour, the plot doesn’t hold up.  It’s the writers again.  After that one hour of great lead in, the movie appears to be going nowhere – or are we in for some big surprises?  We hope so. 

                It’s fun to watch Denzel Washington’s super confident cop gunning for promotion, satisfying to see the grand Christopher Plummer as a dignified old tycoon with a secret.  He has become elegant, and it becomes him.  Jodie Foster, wearing the stilettos, suits, and confident smile of a power broker, joins Washington and Plummer in playing against type.  Watching them have fun is the only reason to see this movie. 


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