Inside Man is director Spike Lee’s take on a heist film, and predictably he puts his own spin on an old genre and offers up something unpredictable. It’s like an episode of Law and Order minus the order.
Lee forgoes the usual set-up for movies like this and gets us directly into the action. Five minutes into the movie we are inside the bank and the bad guys—led by the charismatic Clive Owen—have already taken control, closing off the building and taking hostages. On the outside a team of detectives led by Spike Lee regular Denzel Washington—they’ve made four movies together—tries to keep the situation under control.
It sounds rather standard, but Lee crafts a story in which the moral compass can’t find true north, and the good guys aren’t always good and maybe the bad guys aren’t as bad as they seem.
Also unexpected for a thriller of this kind is how much humor Washington and Owen bring to their roles. Their conversations crackle with sharp one-liners that diffuse some of the tension of the story.
In one effective scene Owen spends some time with the youngest hostage as the street-wise kid plays with a violent videogame on his PSP. Owen inspects the game that includes drive-by shootings, stabbings and most outrageously, a hand grenade stuffed into the mouth of a pedestrian. As the videogame character’s head explodes Owen says, “I’ll take you back to your Father. I think should have a word with him about that game.” It’s a humorous moment, but one also laden with social comment. In earlier films Lee has employed a heavier hand when trying to get his message across, but it seems he has learned that a spoonful of sugar can sometimes more effectively help the medicine go down.
Inside Man will keep you guessing until the end, and maybe even after you leave the theatre. Lee chooses not to tie up all the loose ends, and the film is more intriguing because of it.