Inside Man : First Best Film of 2006

It's been awhile since I reviewed something. It's also been awhile since I had a chance to watch anything (..except of course for TV, and yes Zack, your 'chicken little' has been voted out..hehe). So I need a little time-out outside the house, the lecture room and the office. I need my movie feed and I need it bad! So last Saturday, my partner-in-crime and I went to watch Inside Man, and let me tell you this; I came out of the cinema feeling relaxed, relieved, recharged, satisfied and entertained. I guess that's what a good movie does to you.

I first saw the trailer for Inside Man on TV and was interested because it boast a great cast. Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Plummer and (Nazim Masnawi's favourite) Chiwetel Ejiofor. But then I realized that this movie was directed by Spike Lee, and I'm like, okay... I NEED to see this one.

For those of you who is not familiar with Spike Lee's work, his movies are not always the kind of movies that you would see in Malaysian cinemas. A typical Spike Lee Joint (..that's what he calls his movies) is fueled with heavy dose of political, racial and social issues that are sometimes downright controversial. His last mainstream movie for example, She Hate Me is a farce about a yuppie and the lesbians he was paid to impregnate. His 19 feature films encompass no-budget indies (She's Gotta Have It), an epic biopic (Malcolm X) and even a musical (School Daze), and he remains one of the most audacious, ferociously independent filmmakers in the business. And because of his love for New York locations and iconclastic personality, Lee has often been compared to Woody Allen.

The storyline is as follows : Four people dressed in painters outfits march into the busy lobby of Manhattan Trust, a cornerstone Wall Street Branch of a worldwide financial institution. Within seconds, the costumed robbers place the bank under a surgically planned siege, and the 50 patrons and staff become unwitting pawns in an airtight heist. NYPD hostage negotiators Detectives Keith Frazier (Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Ejiofor) are dispatched to the scene with orders to establish contact with the heist's ringleader, Dalton Russell (Owen), and ensure safe release of the hostages. The robbers appear to consistently be one step ahead of the police, outwitting Frazier and Mitchell at every turn. Frazier's suspicions that more is at work than anyone perceives are justified with the entry of Madeline White (Foster), a power player with shadowy objectives, who requests a private meeting with Russell. The chairman of the bank's board of directors, controlling entrepreneur Arthur Case (Plummer), is also uniquely interested in the moment-to-moment happenings inside the branch. But just what are the robbers after? Why has nothing worked to alleviate the standoff, which stretches on hour after hour? Frazier is convinced that invisible strings are being pulled and secret negotiations are taking place as the powder keg situation grows more unstable by the moment. (Yahoo Movies)

So what's the verdict? I can honestly say that Inside Man is the first best film of 2006. Working with someone else's script and a story outside the mainstream of his work, Spike Lee delivers laughs, puzzles, tension, thrills and the powers of fine actors at their delicious best. First thing first, the script, by first-time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz, is very smart, tight and stylish with a hint of a French crime classic. Lee does the script justice by filming it in a very calm, laid-back style that you almost don't realize that it was a Spike Lee movie. Russell Gewirtz's script outthinks the audience as well. Gewirtz takes the conventional format of a heist flick and does something completely unorthodox with it. Not until the ending (..and ending that I defy anyone to predict) does it even become clear what the Dalton gang came to steal. Brilliant stuff.

Spike Lee directing is marvellous. If Inside Man isn't the best movie Lee has done, it's probably the most purely exciting and enjoyable. Even though this is a cops and robbers, cat and mouse story, he never loses his touch and love for New York and its social and racial issues. Set and shot just a stone's throw from where the World Trade Center once stood, it is, in part, like Lee's earlier work 25th Hour, a kind of symphony of post-9/11 New York, about people of all creeds and colors soldiering on, no matter that what they're getting up to.

One unforgettable scene involves a Sikh whom the robbers release early with a message tied around his neck. The NYPD officers on the scene assume he's Arab and that the message is a bomb. They rough him up, then swipe his turban. When he's being interrogated later, the Sikh man refuses to discuss the heist until his turban is returned, then condemns his harassment. When he's done, Washington says, "But I bet you can still get a cab." And the Sikh man replied, "That is one of it's perks, man." In this single moment, which is more vivid than almost all of Crash we see the sad modern hierarchy of American bigotry.

Lee also rolls out his tricky trademark dolly shots, especially the scene where Washington 'flies' to the bank entrance instead of just walking. Every scene in the movie is alert and lit up with vibrant details. There's a shot of Washington and Foster standing in front of a 'We Will Never Forget: 9/11' poster and two separate shots of Exchange Place and Hanover Street just as someone was about to negotiate with the robbers (geddit..?). Spike Lee also never fails to show his love for hip-hop and gangsta rap in his movies. There is a scene involving a gangsta crime video game just like his previous movie Clockers and one very funny yet violent scene involving a phone and Kanye West's hit 'Golddigger'. Now that, is pure Spike Lee.

Lee has considered everything, and his first contingency is a staggeringly classy ensemble cast. With a cast like this it's difficult to go wrong. Potraying why he is one of the greatest actor of all time, Denzel Washington oozes charisma and class. He feels and looks like he's having a good time but when he feels like it he can be the most charismatic star in the movies. This is Washington and Lee fourth collaboration by the way. The good thing about a Spike Lee and Denzel Washington collaboration is that, they're OK on their own, but mix them together and you have a chemistry that is a joy to watch. They brought out the best in each other just like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. Chiwetel Ejiofor, meanwhile, offers fine support as his partner. Watching he and Washington riffing together in a series of sepia-toned flashforwards, as they grill potential suspects, is a particular treat and includes some of the movie funniest moments.

Clive Owen once again exhibits that trademark steely control, achieving an air of calculation and potential menace even when he's behind dark glasses and a mask. Owen is mesmerizing breaking through the fourth wall to enumerate for the audience the who, what and why of the crime he's about to commit As for Jodie Foster, well, she's having a field day as one of the best unscrupulous bitches we've seen on the big screen since Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction. Foster's Madeliene White is an interesting new take on the shady, backroom dealmaker. She seems very happy not to have to roll up her sleeves, bruise people or run and shout hysterically in movies. She and Washington have a pair of crackling scenes together in which they really seem to be studying each other like two great writers. Christopher Plummer and Willem Dafoe are also excellent in playing their characters and Defoe for once is very believable in a role that doesn't require him to be the villain or the bad guy. It's no doubt that all of these actors performances are the soul of the movie and the reason why the story is such a treat to watch.

The heist at the heart of Inside Man is brilliant, and so is the movie. It's one of the most diabolically clever of all bank-robbery pictures, not just because it keeps us pinned to the edges of our seats wondering what's going to happen next, but because it's about something more sinister than whether the bandit manages to make off with the loot. It is about greed in which all of the major characters are looking for the short road to success and where the real thieves may just as soon be those negotiating with the bank robbers as the robbers themselves. As a compliment, I would say that Inside Man just dwells underneath the brilliance of Dog Day Afternoon and The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three. But nevertheless, Inside Man is a masterful take on a well-worn genre of heist movie. Must watch.

**I have to tell you this, in the first minute of the movie, right when the opening song starts to play, 2 things will play on your mind :- 1) Am I in the right cinema hall? 2) Shah Rukh Khan dancing on top of a train. You have to go see it to understand what I'm talking about. It's excellent!


  1. Zack said...

    Sejak Chicken Little tu kuar, aku mcm hilang mojo utk terus tonton AI.

    Edd, it's She Hate Me la. Citer gila. Ko, kalo rasa mcm terdesak nak pakai duit, mcm idea bagus tu...:-) (gurau jek. gila ke apa!)

  2. Nazim Masnawi said...

    Holy fuck, you're goddamn right, man! This is one of the best films of 2006 (I still put V for Vendetta no. 1 on the list thus far though). This film is just all out cool! Denzel proved why he is one of the greatest movie star out there, Clive is as engaging as ever, Jodie a lil' disappoints, Chewie and Willem is a bit underused but you can't help that; they're just supportings. Anyway, fuck you, Ang Lee! Your brother here is the finest of the Lee family! Go kiss his hairy bean bag now!

  3. Zack said...

    Huh? They're related? But,but, but how?

    Hairy bean bag? Hey, I've got those !

  4. cik sueN said...

    still haven't watch it yet.
    masuk dlm waiting list akku.

    *lari topik*
    but yup, 3 thumbs up (pinjam sape2 punye ibu jari kejap) for V for Vendetta. makes me wonder mcmane crite mcm neh bley lepas kt mesia? kinda provoking us to stand up and fight wat we think is right for us.

    or mebi org2 lembage penapisan was too dumb to understand wat the movie was all about.. akku xtau la kan...

  5. Edd Vedder said...

    chicken little dah takde, ko bleh sokong blondie pirate Datuk K plak.. hehe. Aku actually dah terpikir nk buat cam citer 'She Hate Me' tu. Tapi bukannya takleh wat, tp mana nk cari lesbo ramai2 camtu kat mesia ni.. haha!

    aku lum sempat tgk V, so aku takleh nak ckp citer mana yg better. The finest of the Lee family? bukan Bruce Lee ke? :)

    maybe jugak LPF dah mula menjadi lebih open-minded? I mean, Gubra recently diluluskan tanpa potongan.. Aku tgk Inside Man baru ni pun.. cursed words mcm 'shit', 'fuck' semua dia dh x potong cam dulu, instead dia silentkan. Better that way drpd dia main suka hati potong sampai ter'potong' stim nak tgk..

    ..mari sokong LPF!

  6. Mensh said...

    Bila kau mention pasal 25th Hour, baru aku ingat yang ada jugak filem Spike Lee yang aku pernah tengok sebelum Inside Man. What can I say about Inside Man…it’s a brilliant movie and a very good review you give here. Ada satu trivia yang aku nampak dari filem ni, bila Clive Owen cakap dalam telefon dgn Denzel masa tengah negogiate tu, dia panggil Denzel as “Serpico”. Serpico ialah kisah benar seorang polis New York (versi filemnya di bawa oleh Al Pacino) yang amanah dan jujur berkhidmat tetapi di benci oleh polis2 lain kerana sifat baiknya. Kemudian, Al Pacino bawa watak perompak bank pula, well, kau dah mention tajuk filem tu dalam review kau. Kalau kau perasan ada dialog Denzel yang dia menyebut Dog Day Afternoon dalam salah satu babak filem ini. Sanjungan untuk perompak-perompak semua.

  7. vovin said...

    Aku tak rasa dalam konteks 'V' tu LPF dah open minded. Diorang just 'tak tahu' filem tu ada relate/tonjol batang hidung kerajaan.

    Anyway, Inside Man blum tengok lagi. Wakakaka.

  8. Edd Vedder said...

    mmg aku perasaan ttg reference filem serpico dan dog day afternoon dalam Inside Man. Tapi aku perasaan satu lagi trivia dlm filem tu.. Kalau ada yg nampak dekat kotak pizza yang diorder oleh Denzel utk dibagi kpd hostages, ada tertulis 'Sal Pizzeria' yg juga merupakan kedai pizza yg menjadi tumpuan dlm filem Spike Lee 'Do The Right Thing'.. Hehe.

    Agaknya mmg diaorang tak tahu.. Kalau tak takkan RTM terlepas nak potong nude scenes mcm ari tu.. haha! Tgk weh, Inside Man.. highly recommended!

  9. Zack said...

    Woi, woi, update la!

  10. swan said...

    hai edd..

    thank you for welcoming me into your blog..hahahahahaha ok serious please let me leave a comment in you blog....

    waiting for this movie to come out on lanun DVD soon...looks real wicked. Clive Owen was also good in Derailed. King Arthur was a disaster for him.

    Cheers Edd

  11. Nazim Masnawi said...

    Dude, aku rasa ko takyah update la. I dunno, it seems so cliche to me, so 2005. Just keep it this way.

  12. Zack said...

    Hell Nazim Masnawi.

    You better leave your blogger password with Vovin, sebab kalo ko tak dpt update sbb ada slight case of DEATH (yours), then we'll know...

    PS: Sometimes aku terfikir naper ada org tak update blog diorg. Dah mati ke? Atau kena pindah ke tempat yg takde internet access?

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