Washington Doesn't Bank on Owen
A good bank job movie is like a good magic trick you know at some point the robbers are going to pull of an audacious get away and you want to know how. Part of the success of Spike Lee's bank job movie "Inside Man" is the pay off, how a group of bank robbers plan to get out of the surrounded bank. The other part is good casting from Denzel Washington in the lead role to those in smaller but no less important roles such as Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer.
From a cell Dalton Russell (Clive Owen - The Bourne Identity) tells us that he is going to rob a bank and invites us to watch but to make sure you pay attention. A small group of men and women dressed as decorators enter a bank and take the staff and customers hostage, forcing them all to strip and put on overalls and masks like theirs. Detective Frazier (Denzel Washington - John Q), who is currently under suspicion over missing money, is assigned to be the hostage negotiator and with Detective Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) where they bide their time observing and waiting before trying to deal with the criminals. Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), owner of the bank has something in a security box inside the vault, something which he doesn't want anyone to see and so hires the mysterious Madeleine White (Jodie Foster) to make sure no one does. With the robbers demanding a jet and busses despite knowing it won't happen and seemingly in no hurry or panic the question is how are they going to get out and how is Russell involved if he is in a cell?
Now here is the thing about "Inside Man" there is plenty going on which embellishes the main storyline. We have Detective Keith Frazier who is not only under suspicion over missing money but has a criminal brother-in-law, then there is Arthur Case the bank owner who is concerned that what he has in a safety deposit box in the bank never gets discovered. Add to this the mysterious Madeleine White, a civilian who Case calls upon because she is an expert in dealing with this and you have a lot of little stories going on. But like a magic trick these are just smoke, there to distract you from what is happening, getting you to take your eyes off of the main story. That doesn't mean they are unimportant, the secret which Case has in a security box is part of the main storyline but not as pivotal as you first think.
As such the main storyline to "Inside Man" is how a small group of robbers plan to rob a bank and get away with it whilst we have Det. Frazier working as hostage negotiator and trying to solve what they are up to. What this really means is we are not so bothered by what this gang is going to steal but how they plan to get out and like with the subplots there is a certain amount of smoke to this. We watch as Frazier and his team try to bug what is going on inside the bank walls, we see the hostages forced to wear the same overalls as the robbers and everything leads you to think certain things. Heck "Inside Man" even starts with a brief scene featuring Dalton Russell who explains that he has pulled a bank job whilst mentioning being in a cell.
And the good news is that when it comes to the pay off, how the robbers are going to get away with it you are not disappointed, in fact it is one of the cleverest bank job movies when it comes to the How. But not only that, there is more because we have important scenes which follow which draw in those subplots which act like smoke so they reveal their importance. Basically "Inside Man" is like a good magic trick sucking us in to what is happening and then wanting to know how it even makes you begin to wonder whether Frazier is a dirty cop who is in cahoots with the robbers.
Now there are a few well known faces in "Inside Man" and the likes of Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Plummer, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Clive Owen all put in good performances, creating characters which have an air of mystery to them. But in reality "Inside Man" ends up being Denzel Washington's movie not because his character ends up being the most interesting thing, that is still the how, but because Washington makes Det. Frazier interesting. From the way he dresses through to his attitude, his slightly cavalier moments to the confidence this is a man who you are never entirely sure of, one eye on the job one eye on getting home to his wife, where he promises to bring Big Willy and the Twins along!
What this all boils down to is that "Inside Man" is a very good bank job movie which whilst having a lot of good performances and good direction is a success because of one thing. That one thing is the how, how the bank robbers plan to escape a surrounded building and it is a terrific how.