Ignorance Is Bliss.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of action movies, I think of Spike Lee. Wait, no, I don’t. In fact, I don’t think at all, because brainless action movies are for illiterate immigrants and the retarded, so they only way I can enjoy them is by holding my breath till I go stupid and forget how to speak English. Regardless, Spike Lee is probably the last person I would choose to direct an action film, after maybe Michael Moore and any woman. In fact, judging from this movie, I don’t think Lee has even seen an action movie before, much less thought about how to make one.
Coincidentally, he's also the last person I'd like to see do a documentary.
But that turns out to be a good thing. Because Lee is absolutely unprepared to make anything but an overlong, vaguely anti-Semitic diatribe about racism in New York spiced up with a few New York Knicks references, Inside Man manages to avoid most of the action movie clichés that have come to define the genre. A graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts, Lee comes from a generation taught to appreciate filmmaking as an art, not as a way to sleep with Lil’ Kim on the set of a music video. He’s a structuralist, mainly so he can claim the bad acting in his film is deliberate deconstructionism, which is an approach generally not suited to making things explode in slow motion. But by being completely unfamiliar in action film conventions, he ends up approaching a lot of things in a different way, making for some interesting viewing. He still manages to make the film his own, by including the standard character-standing-on-a-dolly shot, a greedy Jew, and horribly inappropriate music that ranges from what appears to be African chanting to free-form clarinet, but the movie remains unique in his filmography.
Inside Man is one of those heist films so full of twists and turns you can’t really describe the plot without spoiling it for the one idiot out of a thousand who can’t figure it out from the trailer. Suffice it to say that it’s about a bank robbery that turns into a hostage taking that turns into an extra half hour of unnecessary denouement after the main action is over. Clive Owen plays the lead hostage-taker with the cold, clinical feel of a speculum as he buts heads with Denzel Washington’s Detective Frazier. Washington is at his best when he lets a playfulness partially mask the depth of his character, and also when he remembers that he’s black. He does both here, and is definitely the highlight of the film. In terms of plot, none of the surprises are really that surprising, especially if you’ve been watching Masterminds on the History Channel. Also, the fact that the heist is over half an hour before the end leads to a deflating of tension and the complete collapse of the film in the last quarter, but it’s still fairly diverting. What’s more interesting, however, is how terribly self-serving each and every character in the film is, Washington included, so much so that the only person you end up feeling sympathy for is the one person you’re clearly not intended to, because he’s the only one who seems to have the guilt gene. Still, if you’re looking for an action film, you could do a lot worse than Inside Man. Provided you can speak English.