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Inside Man

Genre: Action
Rated: R
Directed by
Released by: Universal Pictures

In Short: Director Spike Lee's deft hand, top-notch cast, and crisply plotted script combine to create a classy crime thriller.

Mysterious Lee
Spike Tries His Hand at Suspense—and Delivers
By Jenny Peters

With "Inside Man," director Spike Lee has fashioned a practically perfect crime caper. From the striking opening shot to the cleverly satisfying finale, Lee shifts gears away from his often polemic filmmaking style, this time concocting an exciting tale that dips deftly into the Hitchcock legacy, adds a soupcon of Lumet (think "Dog Day Afternoon"), and results in a movie that keeps viewers constantly guessing, gasping, and often chuckling as well.

It's seemingly all about a robbery gone wrong, as Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and his criminal crew enter a venerable old Wall Street bank and end up holding a large group of patrons and employees hostage. Enter New York City detective (and hostage negotiator) Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), and the classic cat-and-mouse game begins. As robber and detective go toe to toe, back and forth in negotiating the safe release of the hostages, the plot thickens as other elements begin to surface.

There's the patrician bank owner (Christopher Plummer), concerned more about his property than the people held inside; a sleek fixer (Jodie Foster), whose machinations behind the scenes reveal bigger things at stake than just the cold cash in the vault; and even the city's mayor, who gets drawn reluctantly into the ever-widening ripples caused by the robbery.

Lee keeps the action crisp, as the two-hour-plus film seems to fly by. The ride Lee creates is a deftly structured mystery that is enhanced by memorable performances from all concerned. Washington's brash, quintessentially New York detective is a real departure for the actor, as is Foster's cold-as-ice behind-the-scenes manipulator; both give fine, believable turns. But it is Clive Owen who really shines (despite playing much of his role behind a face-covering mask) as the criminal who plans out a multi-leveled, complex crime and then disappears as the cops close in.

"Inside Man" is the best sort of Hollywood thriller, with nary a misstep, a movie that keeps viewers guessing from start to finish.

(Published: 03/24/06)

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