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Volume 18, Issue 2: Ex Imagibus

Inside Man

Reviewed by Brendan O'Donnell

Inside Man
directed by Spike Lee

Whatever else it is, Inside Man does not come across as an assembly-line Hollywood thriller, although it ought to. Denzel Washington must negotiate with Clive Owen for the release of the fifty-odd hostages the thief has taken in a lower Manhattan bank robbery. It’s a “perfect-crime” scenario. Jodie Foster, hired by bank president Christopher Plummer, pursues her own line of negotiation on behalf of Plummer, who has something he wants to remain hidden inside a safe-deposit box in the bank. Of course, said secret is what Clive Owen and cronies are there to unearth.
Things unfold quite on schedule, though not necessarily how we’re accustomed to expect, and the movie ratchets up the tension when it seems meet and right so to do. Clever writing and good perfomances make the whole spectacle much more than just endurable; director Spike Lee, refreshingly, lets us know the movie takes place in New York via an eye for details and characters that would probably have been hammered flat by a less understanding film-maker.
So, Inside Man is worth seeing, and don’t worry about forgetting it afterwords, because you will. Although Lee restrains his more irritating, self-important, social-commentary gestures with this movie, that doesn’t alter the fact that he remains a secularist depicting a secular world. In a secular world, symbolism is, at best, accidental, and usually non-existent. The best Lee can do is give us a rich white guy who stands in for “The Man.”
As detailed as his characters are, as ingenious as the set-up is, and as tightly shot and edited the whole package, Inside Man, because of its fundamentally secular belief about the world, comes out in the end as yet another slice of entertainment about as deep and contemplative as a spoonful of coffee.

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