The premise of Inside Man is simple -“ stage the perfect bank heist -“ yet the execution of Spike Lee’s riveting thriller is anything but straightforward.
Inside Man is a puzzle, we are told. Its string of clues will be offered only once.
Pay strict attention to what I say, because I choose my words carefully, and I never repeat myself, a man in a small cell tells us.
The man in the cell (Clive Owen) is also the brains behind a crew of bank robbers who walk into a bank dressed as painters.
Within minutes, 50 terrified staff and customers are hostage and a tense standoff with New York’s finest cops is unfolding.
Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Denzel Washington, plays Keith Frazier, the NYPD hostage negotiator assigned to the case with his partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor, most recently seen in high drag in Kinky Boots but wearing the pants this time round).
The case is a break for Frazier who wants to make first grade but has an issue with Internal Affairs hanging over his head.
Spike Lee knows New York City and the city sure knows the drill for a bank heist. There’s a chaotic energy about the camerawork and snappy editing as Captain John Darius (Willem Dafoe) of the Emergency Services Unit has the police, fire and media all slotted into their regular spots. It seems like business as usual.
But the robbers don’t plan the game the cops expect them to play and it soon becomes clear that there’s more than money at stake -“ something the bank’s chairman Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) doesn’t want anyone to get their hands on.
Enter Jodie Foster as Madeline White, a shadowy powerbroker with her finger on the pulse of the city’s power elites, a Ms Fix-It with a very high price tag who Case hopes will solve his not-so-small problem.
While Spike Lee is out to reward the attentive with his smart take on heist films, with a nod to the classic Dog Day Afternoon, Inside Man is also an examination of the Big Apple’s post-September 11 incarnation.
There are no panoramic shots of the Statue of Liberty or Saks Fifth Avenue. This New York is practically an outpost of Asia with its pumping bhangra soundtrack and multicultural streetscapes.
In Inside Man, heightened fear and racism ripples through a suspicious police rank and file.
Yet Lee fills out the racism with darkly humorous scenes such as the angry monologue by a Sikh hostage, ejected from the bank by the robbers, who is furious the police have stolen his turban.
As with the brilliant The Usual Suspects, look forward to a tidy tie-up of loose ends peppered with a few unexpected twists and turns. And remember, pay attention!