Over the last several weeks each Wednesday has been dedicated to Denzel Day at Keith & the Movies. This silly little bit of ceremony has offered me a chance to celebrate the movies of a truly great modern day actor – Denzel Washington. It finishes up today.
The fourth collaboration between Denzel Washington and director Spike Lee was 2006’s “Inside Man” and it had a dramatically different flavor than their previous three films. “Inside Man” was a straight-up heist thriller featuring an all-star cast and a character heavy story that plays out over a 24-hour period.
Washington is in top form playing Detective Keith Frazier, an ambitious NYPD hostage negotiator looking to land a meaningful case to push him up the department’s ladder. Despite being in the doghouse, his Captain throws him a bone after four masked robbers barricade themselves and a slew of hostages inside Manhattan Trust Bank. Frazier and his partner (Chiwetel Ejiofor) head downtown to begin negotiations.
The mastermind is Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) who opens the film with a monologue about what he confidently calls his “perfect robbery”. His exquisitely detailed heist takes everything into account even anticipating the law enforcement’s every move. This (and perhaps a touch of arrogance) makes it tough for Frazier to get a leg up.
Now toss in a couple of outside pieces who add some unexpected layers to the story. First you have Christopher Plummer who plays Arthur Case. He’s the Chairman of the bank’s Board of Directors who has an intensely personal interest in the heist that goes beyond the millions of dollars in the vaults or even the hostages being held inside.
Case hires Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), a high dollar fixer with a direct line to the mayor, to use her vast and powerful resources to retrieve an immensely valuable safe deposit box from the bank before the robbers or the police can discover its contents. Case will do anything to get it and Madeleine will do anything for the right price. This just adds more complexity to Frazier’s already difficult assignment.
Lee does a good job keeping all of these moving parts in line while also playing around with the timeline a bit. We see this mostly through a series of interviews with hostages who survived the robbery. These are interlaced with the main story and often pop up at strategic times. They are also a clever method of feeding the audience information about Russell and his master plan.
Lee gets a big assist from first-time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz and his razor-sharp script. Interestingly Gewirtz has only one other screenplay credit since “Inside Man” (2008’s “Righteous Kill”). That’s a surprise considering how well he constructs this story. He puts together a straight-forward but enthralling caper that does right by its characters while offering Lee the wiggle room to poke at a few social issues along the way. He doesn’t get to shout as loud as he usually does, but I enjoyed the break from his norm.
VERDICT – 4 STARS