INSIDE MAN pulled off director Spike Lee’s by far best-ever haul at the box-office, grossing $184,400,000, the 23rd most popular film of 2006. Starring the fourth time for Lee, Denzel Washington plays a detective hostage negotiator trying to end a bank robbery standoff with heist-leader Clive Owen before plasma is spilled. In the spirit of earlier NYC set crime dramas like Dog Day Afternoon and The Taking Of Pelham 123, this one throws enough curveballs (and curves) to keep you guessing, has good lines for the diverse cast to toss back & forth and while the pay-off is maybe less immediately satisfying than the buildup, it gets credit for trying to be different than the usual frenetic bloodbath. What little violence there is, Lee wisely suggests more than than shows, also a welcome touch.
Four (maybe more, stick around) masked perps stage an exceptionally well-thought-out bank takeover that’s scope and brazenness nonetheless seems ripe for messy failure when the police quickly have them hemmed in. Dozens of hostages are involved, and soon a mysterious, highly connected ‘fixer’ (Jodie Foster) shows up to intercede on behalf of the bank president (Christopher Plummer) and the mayor. Washington, his partner (Chewetel Ejiofor), and their tactical coordinator (Willem Dafoe) have hands full juggling factors, faceoffs, players and plays.
Written by first-timer Russell Gewirtz, the script has plenty of the ‘New Yorker character’ mix the director is fond of, but it drops his standard polemic stance, which worked to powerful effect in Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X but self-sabotaged projects like Summer Of Sam and Miracle At St. Anna. The writing in other hands, his direction is as assured as ever. His star players are on their game, the casting choices in the smaller roles is particularly sharp, and the film looks urgent and tight, with some complex cinematography handled by Matthew Libatique. The “flash- forwards” are smartly done.
Lee made a killer choice in having his go-to music-man Terence Blanchard compose the soundtrack. It’s a full-on orchestral work, exciting yet subdued, with just the right hints at tension and pace, leaving the overworked milieu of pounding noise and pop insert steals for other composers to bludgeon onto their urban thrillers. He & Lee do make brilliant use of one pop hit, from Dil Se.., a popular 1998 Bollywood thriller. The song “Chaiyya Chaiyya”—an immense worldwide smash written by A.R. Rahman—is infectious, both sexy and hopeful and in an odd way haunting. Hard to resist, used to start and finish the picture, with a bit of tweaking from Blanchard, using Panjabi MC.
Produced for $45,000,000, running 129 minutes. With Carlos Andrés Gómez, Kim Director, James Ransome, Peter Frechette, Samantha Ivers, Victor Colicchio, Peter Gerety, Marcia Jean Kurtz (31 years earlier a Dog Day Afternoon hostage), Cassandra Freeman, Lemon Anderson. Hats especially doffed in the direction of one Florina Petcu. *
* Playing the aggressively sexy Albanian woman, the tantalizing Ms.Petcu, 30 here, hailed from Romania. International Kickboxing Champion. Add ballerina, soccer player and clinical psychologist. We who are about to sigh salute you…