Spike Lee's 2006 caper thriller, INSIDE MAN, wastes no time in getting things moving. The film opens with a group of four masked individuals, led by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), staging a robbery and hostage taking at a Manhattan bank. We have not seen the planning of this heist so we're in the dark (along with all of the other characters in the film) as to what the robbers' plan is.
The robbery launches a full scale response from NYPD including Captain John Darius (Willem Dafoe) of the Emergency Services Unit, who sets up a mobile command post outside of the bank. NYPD Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is the lead hostage negotiator along with his partner, Detective Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The cat and mouse game of moves and counter moves begins. Meanwhile, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), the chairman of the bank's board of directors calls in Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), a high-powered "fixer" with political connections. There's something in the bank that belongs to Case that must be kept secret at all costs and White is hired to make sure the robbers don't get whatever it is.
The robbery plays out in a series of clever twists and turns. We know that it will eventually end because Lee gives us multiple flash forwards (shot in a desaturated visual palette) in which Frazier and Mitchell interrogate various people involved in the incident in an attempt to identify the robbers. This is a difficult task because all of the thieves and hostages are dressed exactly alike making it impossible to tell who's who. And it turns out that no money was stolen and no one was killed. So what, if any crime was committed and who do you charge with said crime? Frazier is told to drop the case but unanswered questions remain and he keeps digging.
To say anymore would be to spoil the surprises in store in the third act. Suffice it to say that the major plot twist (which I didn't see coming) was once used on an episode of BANACEK, the 1970s television series in which insurance investigator Banacek (George Peppard) solved "impossible" crimes.
Spike Lee seems like an odd choice to direct a crime thriller but he does a very good job here. He keeps things moving at a good clip, his camera constantly moving over, under and around characters in various settings. The cast is first rate. Washington is street savvy, ambitious and has a bulldog tenacity. Foster is an ice cold operator with a heart of stone. Plummer is a man desperately trying to buy respectability and Owen is the mastermind who has carefully engineered the intricate plot from beginning to end.
For the most part, Russell Gewirtz' script is good but it could have used some adjusting. At 129 minutes, the film is a bit too long with multiple climaxes in addition to being a bit vague about just who Madeleine White is and how she's able to do what she does. Also, there's no explanation (unless I missed it) as to how Dalton knows about his true objective in the crime.
Nonetheless INSIDE MAN is a slick, clever, well-constructed crime thriller with a first rate cast and enough plot twists and turns to keep you guessing right up to the end. Recommended.