Inside Man has got to be the cleverest remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three made to date, starring Denzel Washington as Walter Matthau and Clive Owen as Robert Shaw and Jodie Foster as Martin Balsam. Okay, just kidding. Kind of. Inside Man, rather pointedly, follows in the Dog Day Afternoon tradition of the present action being the robbery and hostage situation and the film’s running time being divided, more or less equally, between cops and robbers. And Denzel Washington is playing Walter Matthau, or the same kind of role Matthau played in Pelham… a non-specific cop role with a little back-story but only enough to confuse the most gullible viewer he’s not just a cog in the plot. Washington turns in Inside Man’s least compelling performance (except maybe the–until this film–always reliable Chiwetel Ejiofar, who follows Washington around and gets shown up by Daryl Mitchell in a practical cameo)–Washington wears a hat to make him stand out. In terms of being an actor’s role or an actor’s film, it’s embarrassing, but Inside Man doesn’t offer either of those things. Instead, it’s a real solid, traditional bank robbery movie.
One of the film’s most traditional elements, after it opens–almost as a tease to the audience–different (more in line with a Spike Lee “joint”), is Terence Blanchard’s score. It’s classic Hollywood music for the genre. It’s really good and effective, but it’s the norm. Spike’s direction reminds a lot of the third Die Hard, probably the first time I’ve ever thought of John McTiernan during a Spike Lee film, with only one patented walking shot and a few too many dolly zooms (like four–Spike’s a little too good of a director to use exclamation points).
Clive Owen’s excellent, turning in the film’s best performance (though the morality angle of the script is kind of cheap and uninteresting). Jodie Foster is okay in her role, though it seems like they really wanted her name on the poster or something, because any number of non-Academy Award winning prestige actors could have played the part. Willem Dafoe has a smaller role and he’s excellent, getting in to the communal spirit of the cop scenes in a way Washington cannot. Even Ejiofar manages well in those moments, but Washington is in a movie star role and can’t break for the small stuff. Christopher Plummer–in the hiss-friendly villain role–does a little less than he could, even if the character is terribly defined in the script.
The script’s high points are the plotting–which Spike and Blanchard had a lot to do with making great–and the heist itself. They aren’t so good in the character moments. Also really good are the cop moments, though it’s weird to see Spike do a traditional cop movie after he made such pointed changes–with great success–to Clockers. There’s a neat little Clockers reference in Inside Man, but I’d imagine the films are for very different audiences.
I do have to say, I find the film’s reputation for it’s plot innovations a little silly. Besides being predictable–except perhaps in regards to its MacGuffin–it’s essentially a remake of Quick Change, only serious….
Directed by Spike Lee; written by Russell Gewirtz; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Barry Alexander Brown; music by Terence Blanchard; production designer, Wynn Thomas; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Denzel Washington (Detective Keith Frazier), Clive Owen (Dalton Russell), Jodie Foster (Madeline White), Christopher Plummer (Arthur Case), Willem Dafoe (Capt. John Darius) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Detective Bill Mitchell).