Merrick is now awake and properly caffeinated ...
Massawyrm wrote in with a look at Spike Lee's INSIDE MAN.
Personally, I believe that much of Lee's most interesting work happens when he's not distracted by (or bogged down in) social commentary. Seems INSIDE MAN may nicely illlustrates this notion.
Trailers promote this film as a caper film. Evidently, it is a caper film...but it also focuses quite heavily on exploring the characters driving the caper, and those reacting to it. This gives the audience an emotional context for what is happening, rather than simply letting us watch it happen.
Anyone out there remember GALE FORCE? It's about a heist that was supposed to go down while an evacuated town is being slammed by a hurricane. Sounds a bit like HARD RAIN, but bigger. Guess it got canned. Renny Harlin was supposed to direct GALE FORCE at one point - maybe it's better that the movie didn't come about. Neither of these films relates to INSIDE MAN (other than they're all about heists), so I really don't know why I mentioned them.
Hola all. Massawyrm here. Spike Lee is one of those interesting directors known more for the content of his work than the style or ability he shows making it. I mean, when was the last time you heard someone say ‘Well, this was clearly influenced by Spike Lee’ or ‘This has a very Spike Lee look to it?’ You don’t. Which is odd for someone so readily identifiable, someone so easily recognized by a general populace who has seen at least a few of his films. He’s never been that kind of filmmaker. He’s always been a filmmaker more about the message than the method – substance over style if you will. Not to say that he doesn’t have a specific look to his films, but it’s never been where his focus as a filmmaker was.
So with Inside Man I was extremely curious. How was a guy like Lee going to adapt to making a Hollywood crime thriller? I’m pleased to report very well indeed. Checking his fondness for social commentary and proselytizing at the door, Lee set out to make one hell of a by the numbers thriller that proves to be sharper and smarter than most similar fare. Of course, the big sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of movie goers looking at Inside Man is whether or not the trailer gives too much away – whether or not the marketing folks sold the movie upriver ala The Negotiator in hopes of getting more folks in the seats by showing the twist, rather than concealing it.
Fortunately, this isn’t the case. The trailer’s attempt to state that this is more than just a bank robbery film serves its purpose well, as none of the truly relevant facts or character information is given away. This isn’t just a bank robbery occurring in the film – but that piece of information is hardly a twist as much as it is a slow realization on the part of the man in charge (Denzel Washington.) And watching the robbery occur as Washington tries to figure it all out is the joy of watching Inside Man, rather than the revelation of its twists. Not to say that it’s not a twisty turny film. It is. But Lee never puts the focus on the twists in the way many filmmakers have in the Post-Shyamalan Hollywood. He never jumps out and yells “Gotcha, didn’t I?” First and foremost this is a Heist movie, one that sets out to show you every intricate detail of this perfect crime. Secondly, Lee is developing an interesting cast of characters, both cop and crook alike, and when the film isn’t showing us the aspects of the crime, it’s giving us great little moments between them. Every ‘twist’, so to speak, evolves from these moments, rather than simply giving power to them. And that’s what I’ve got to say I like best about this film. It tries to be a good film that will be just as interesting on subsequent viewings as it was the first.
Lee manages to inject a very slick sense of style, which while commonplace in films of its ilk, is not so common for Lee himself. The result is a beautiful to look at film that is stylish but never over stylized. Lee never gets all Fincher on us. He develops a look that is similar to the style we’ve seen in him for years, but more organized, more eloquent. It becomes something more like ‘Heat’ than it does ‘Panic Room.’
While the characters certainly can’t be accused of being overly complex, you couldn’t ask for a stronger cast to give them the weight they need to be worth watching every minute of. Here you have the aforementioned Denzel Washington as the sharp-tongued cop dealt a bad hand, Clive Owen as the roguish bank robber and Jodie Foster as High Society trouble shooter trying to play both of them; three actors who on their worst days are still better than pretty much everyone else out there. And here they deliver the goods, taking relatively thin stock characters and adding to them the natural charisma that has become the trademark of each. But none of them are ever asked to step outside of their comfort zone to give us anything we haven’t seen before. Providing equally solid performances in stock characters are Willem Dafoe as SWAT guy, Christopher Plummer as Something to Hide guy, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Cop #2 guy. They’re all good, just never given anything to really play around with.
Inside Man’s greatest strength, however, is in the sharpness of the dialog. There are some really great exchanges that insert moments of Lee-like social commentary that is both biting and funny, but absent is the usual heavy hand we’ve come to expect from Lee - each bit feeling like a very natural part of the film rather than shoehorned in. This is a Spike Lee showing a great amount of restraint, and in doing so manages to accentuate his talents in a way we haven’t seen from him before. He’s always been great at milking fantastic performances out of his casts, but here he takes a rather pedestrian script with some nice dialog and spins gold.
If this movie suffers from one flaw, it’s that some audience members are going to find it paced a tad slow – as Lee carefully sets up each movement of the crime and takes his time doing so. Fans of the Heist genre will be fascinated throughout, as I was (being a huge heist movie fan myself), but others are going to find a few moments where they just think things should speed up. But even the most attention deficit among them will be reeled back in when the action takes off again.
Overall, Inside Man is a satisfying thriller and one hell of an entertaining heist film. It’s one of those can’t miss entertainers that’s guaranteed to please – although not so much that you’ll be talking endlessly about it or add it to your list of favorites. It’s a good movie, but never achieves any level of greatness. Recommended for heist movie fans and anyone trying to pick a film this weekend that will play well for everyone.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.
Who wants to bet Spike will flip out like he was at a Knicks game over his movie being reviewed by someone named Massa? E-mail your predictions and betting lines here.