Thursday, May 14, 2015

Inside Man

Inside Man (2006), directed by Spike Lee, admirably attempts to update the same basic scenario of Dog Day Afternoon to post-9/11 America but ends up beached by plot threads that only weave confusion and inertia instead of tension and suspense. Instead of building to a dramatic or even satisfactory resolution, Lee loses the plot, and the film ends weakly as it tries to wrap up all the narrative loose ends.

The film has the usual set-up for this genre. Crooks take hostages in a bank, cops move in, there's debate among the good guys about what to do, and questions about what the bad guys' goals are.

Day Day Afternoon explored and skewered the shameless media and publicity circus that descended when Al Pacino and John Cazale took hostages at a bank on a hot summer's day. At its best, Inside Man examines how in an age of global terrorism, when it is difficult to determine who the enemy could be, law enforcement treats everyone as a potential suspect, including the victims. Here it's made harder by the fact that the bank robbers (led by Clive Owen) order all thirty-plus hostages to dress in the same jumpsuits and masks they are wearing. When the crooks let an occasional hostage go, police react by throwing the terrified person to the ground, slapping on a pair of handcuffs, and interrogating them for hours (of course, with no lawyers or doctors present). One hostage is tossed out because he's having chest pains, and he is treated very roughly by police.

Another hostage, a Sikh employed by the bank, is released carrying a case containing a message from the criminal, wrongly referred by officers as an Arab, and thought to be carrying a bomb. Later, when questioned by the detectives in charge of the case, Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejofor), he demands his turban back, and they keep telling him they'll get it for him later, but they have a more pressing situation to address. He laments the loss of his Civil Liberties.

This material is pretty fascinating and timely. Unfortunately, the pot-boiler elements of the film aren't up to snuff. See, Dalton Russell (Owen's criminal mastermind) isn't looking for money, jewelry, or material wealth stored in the bank; he's looking to unearth a buried secret. This leads to a subplot involving a prominent businessman (Christopher Plummer) who politicks to get a Ms.-Fix-It (Jody Foster) on the scene to advance his agenda. It's a lot of dour exposition about some betrayal of to the Nazis back in World War II, and the film gets so caught up in explaining this, it loses the hostage plot, and instead of getting involved with how this is will play out, we just stop caring about any of it. Plummer and Foster also are gone for such long stretches and are given so little to do when they are, all this back story would have aided the movie by being cut out because it advances nothing.

Lee also miscalculates by intercutting between the hostage crisis as it's ongoing and the interrogations of the hostages after the situation. It throws off the momentum and gives away the fact that most of the hostages, the people at stake, and the police are going to come out all right, defusing any tension. It eventually becomes apparent Owen and his crew have no intention of harming the hostages, so all this talk of deadlines and threats becomes one big waste of time. Ultimately, what Owen sets out to accomplish is a lot less than interesting than if he was just some mad-dog robber trying to steal from the bank and took hostages when cornered.

In the end, Inside Man seems torn about what it wants to be about: a hostage situation in a bank or a mystery that follows said crisis when it becomes apparent the robbers, who weren't after money, have disappeared. Lee tries to do both but ends up losing focus, negating the suspense of the former and the importance of the latter. A movie about a straightforward bank robbery could have really turned the screws while a movie that begins where a heist ends could have been intricate and fascinating. Inside Man accomplishes little of this.

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