This here is Spike Lee making the best caper flick he can make with a superb cast, which is pretty good on all fronts. And actually, the cast is a notch better than you’d think, for the following reasons: Denzel Washington does not play Denzel Washington, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is a great actor even if you don’t know who he is. I guess if you do know who he is already, the cast is only half a notch better than you’d think.
So there’s a good cast and there’s a nifty caper. The whole thing is handed to us from the start; when the first thing you see is Clive Owen talking about how the job went, you have a lot of information available. This trend does not end with the first five minutes. I had about 95% of the scheme figured out by the time the final steps were executed, and if I’d been paying close attention I would have had the last five percent. I am so happy to see a movie that plays fair with the audience. Lost, while I love it with a passion, has barely any mystery content at all. It’s all revelations. Inside Man is a puzzle that engages us. Way better that way.
Spike Lee knows how to direct a movie. I had some qualms about the (not unexpected) multi-cultural focus of the first half of the movie; it’s a Spike Lee Joint, so you know what’s coming, and from the first twangy world music hip hop notes of “Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood Joint” over the opening credits you know he’s partially just wanting to tell us how rainbow ethnic New York is. Which is both cool and true. But man, it’s a bit of a sledgehammer… and then it kinda vanishes; it’s not what the movie is about. Which is only weird because he goes out of his way to emphasize the theme early.
On the other hand? Such a minor nit to pick. The guy is so good with a camera and so good with his actors, and I’m very glad he pushed Denzel Washington out of his bad-ass self and into this funky twitchy brilliant detective role. It’s great contrast: Clive Owen (and Jodie Foster, at that) are cerebral planners. Denzel Washington is just smart, so smart he can barely keep himself on track, and plenty smart enough to keep up with the other two. Which is a bit of class consciousness in itself, I think. Jodie Foster’s character is Ms. White? Yeah.
Still reading? There are about to be spoilers.
One of the reasons I’m pretty sure the Washington/Owen/Foster dance was in part a classic Spike Owen discussion of race and class is because you can drop Jodie Foster out of the movie without having any effect at all. Which is a pity, cause it’s such a great role and the character is so fascinating. Sadly, she has no effect on the caper, the outcome of the caper, or Denzel Washington’s career. She functions as a gateway for the movie, allowing us a window into the high class New York which would otherwise be invisible to us (and to Washington). Plotwise, she’s less relevant.
She’s still cool. And I walked out of the theater wanting to know more about her above any of the characters; whence that career? Whence that need for control? She and Washington are in some ways two of a kind, possessed of a slew of non-verbal tics and trademarks. Owen’s the contrast when looked at from that angle: cool, controlled, and meticulous. There are a lot of ways to shake the triangle up: gender, race, mannerisms, legalities, class…
It’s a nice three-sided kaleidoscope. It’s a good movie.