2006-04-21 / Columnists


'Inside Man' - Spike Breaks Out
By Robert Snyder

Filmmaker Spike Lee is finally breaking into the commercial mainstream. And he does it with a whopper: An intelligent action thriller, "Inside Man."

Written by first-time screenwriter, Russell Gewirtz, "Inside Man" starts as a seemingly routine bank heist movie, but with its inside-out plot, it is anything but. In fact, the script, which is perfectly realized by Lee, is brilliant. As an execution of the "perfect bank robbery," it's almost scary.

Hopefully, real thieves won't take it to heart. In particular, the diabolical trick by head heister Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) of having the hostages dress in painters' outfits and facial masks identical to those of the robbers. Also, devious is Russell's blanking out of the surveillance cameras by shining powerful flashlights at them.

But, that's the superficial stuff. Lee and Gewirtz really get the show going by playing up the New Yorkness (it's a Manhattan bank) of the characters and the scene, in the tradition of Sidney Lumet's 1975 "Dog Day Afternoon."

At one point, hostage negotiator Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) plants a bug on the robbers, only to hear an indecipherable language being spoken. Baffled, he plays a tape of it to the crowd outside bank. Instantly, someone recognizes it as Albanian. Only in the Big Apple.

Smart viewers will keep their eyes and ears on the subplots. One of which involves bank big shot Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) and a nasty power broker Madeline White (Jodie Foster), who are more concerned about a certain safe deposit box than the fate of the hostages. Enough said.

"Inside Man" is the best movie of the year so far. It should not be forgotten at Oscar time.

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