Saturday, March 11, 2006

SPIKE LEE—The Inside Man

As a San Francisco Film Society member, I caught an advance Metreon screening of Spike Lee's latest joint, The Inside Man. It has a great buzz! Jodie Foster plays a "magnificent cunt", Christopher Plummer a wealthy banker with a dark lining to his overcoat, Denzel Washington a wisecracking detective trying to figure out exactly what the Inside Man is hoping to accomplish through his bank heist; but, only Clive Owen really knows for sure.

The writing is deft and rarely predictable, with enough twists in the tale to help you admire the craft. Haggis could learn a thing or two about how to portray race relations in an urban setting from Russell Gewirtz, whose screenwriting debut is stellar. As Emmanuel Levy writes, "[N]o detail is unimportant, and no clue is a throwaway." Levy also considers The Inside Man to be the best film in Lee's career and adds "that both the master of suspense Hitchcock and prince of New York City police dramas Sidney Lumet would be proud of his work." Homage to Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon is cleverly written into the script itself.

Denzel Washington gives a solid performance though I am beginning to wonder if he should take a step away from cop dramas to broaden his repertoire. Jodie Foster lends crisp intelligence to her powerbroking services, wearing (as Joni Mitchell would put it) the beads of guile. Clive Owen has the most beautiful dilated pupils I've ever seen in a man; they're hypnotic black moons. Although predominantly masked throughout the film, his voice, gestures and occasional unmasked visage register a compassionate vigilance and a steadfast aim. He restores honor to the bad guy you cheer for. This film is more than just a bank heist hostage drama or a police procedural. It reflects on who are the true criminals in society and which crimes should not go unpunished. The final scene is a sparkling touch of class.

Here is the official website with story synopsis, trailer and directorial podcast and Emmanuel Levy's preview with informative directorial excerpts.

03/22/06 ADDENDUM: I neglected to mention in my original write-up on Inside Man that the opening title sequence was stunningly Bollywood! The juxtaposition of Bollywood rhythms and Manhattan canyons was thrilling. For the friend who was watching Inside Man with me, it was his first time to hear this music and had him intrigued. Thanks to a discussion initiated by Michael Dequina over at Cinemarati, the tune is identified as "Chaiyya Chaiyya", performed by Sukwinder Singh and Sapna Awasthi and enacted on top of a chugging train by Shahrukh Khan and Malaika Arora. "Chaiyya Chaiyaa" was composed by A.R. Rahman for Mani Ratnam's 1998 classic Dil Se… Bryant Frazer of Deep Focus remains convinced this scene from Dil Se… was the inspiration for the similar set piece in Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, which seems evident now that he's drawn the comparison. Dequina furthered the discussion by offering a YouTube link to the song.

"The svelte, twisty plotting, complete with concentration camp references and Nazi-era villainy, is almost certainly Gewirtz," J. Hoberman writes for The Village Voice, "but the ethnic vaudeville is pure Spike."
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