Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring:||Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer|
|Producer:||Daniel Rosenberg, Brian Grazer|
“It looked like the perfect bank robbery. But you can’t judge a crime by its cover.”
WARNING: Review includes spoiler.
Spike Lee’s new movie, “Inside Man”, is an entertaining thriller about a bank robbery that’s more than a bank robbery. The premise is simple. Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) is a wealthy banker who made his fortune by selling out his Jewish friends to the Nazis during World War II. Darrell Russell (Clive Owen) is the bank robber who robs him of his hidden cache of diamonds and takes the documentation that Case had hidden showing his Nazi connections. Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is the detective who sees through the dual deceptions of both Case and Russell. Frazier proves Case is not the philanthropist he claims to be, and he also proves that Russell is not the simple bank robber that he claims to be.
Jodie Foster plays the character of “Miss White” who is a co-conspirator of Arthur Case and the mayor of New York. Her role is that of a shady representative of a secret organization that maintains the power of corrupt politicians and capitalists. Just as the mayor owed her a favor for a past job, Arthur Case becomes the reference for her next job: helping a relative of Osama bin Laden get the Park Avenue apartment. Presumably, Arthur Case will get this favor from the mayor and will have to do him a favor in return. This is one example of the enigmatic message: “Follow the ring.”
As this is a Spike Lee movie, there are a number of references to race. Racist statements are made by Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe) and Officer Carnow (David Brown). Furthermore, a Sikh employee has his turban ripped off and makes a protracted statement about prejudice in the United States, while a black employee objects to being arrested in such a manner as to show that he is being targeted for his race, even though all the bank employees were detained.
Racial references aside, the film is morally ambiguous. Detective Frazier mentions at least twice that “Everyone is getting theirs, so I’m going to get mine.” As a consequence, Miss White arranges that he get his long-overdue promotion; he is cleared of false charges; he steals the evidence of a multi-million dollar ring; and he keeps a stolen diamond the bank robber put in his pocket. Additionally, he makes a self-conscious speech about putting his foot so far up the posterior of “the Man” that one could drive through the space. For these actions, the viewer is expected to see the character as a good and noble man?
Logically, the movie breaks down for simple reasons. Why would the wealthy banker keep paper evidence of his Nazi past in a safe deposit box for 60 years? Is it to remind him of his guilt? Secondly, the movie’s condemnation of the character raises the question of redemption. Is the position of a banker inherently so evil that even 60 years of good works—and no subsequent evil works—can never erase the guilt of the crimes he committed when he was a “very young man”? Thirdly, if the crimes against Jews that form the basis of the movie are so evil, why does Spike Lee include a Jew as one of the bank robbers? Is this a symbolic way to show retribution even if Jews in general do not benefit from such Robin Hoodism?
Ultimately, the movie is anti-institutional. The police hierarchy is racist in its prosecution of Detective Frazier; the banker is anti-semitic; and Miss White works on behalf of the power structures. In other words, the immoral organizations are all run by “white” people, while black people are uniformly good. This is similar to “The Manchurian Candidate” and to “I, Robot” in its racial formulation, and it is similar to movies like “V for Vendetta” and “Ultraviolet” in its political formulation. In all these movies, it is the institutions that must be destroyed and the anti-hero who is the savior of the masses. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with such premises as a form of escapism. I only object because Hollywood’s escapism in recent films seems confined to anti-Christian and anti-conservative messages. Surely, Hollywood can find criminals outside of these populations.
The movie’s moral condemnation of the banker, the mayor, and the police force would be more credible if it likewise condemned the terrorizing of the bank employees and customers. It’s as if the movie’s message is that terror is all right if it is conducted for the right reason, and that the victims of terror are a necessary by-product of vigilante justice. This is a message of moral equivalence that terrorists around the world use on their own behalf.
Unfortunately, it’s a message that Hollywood itself believes and has made mainstream. For example, “V for Vendetta” producer Joel Silver clings to the old canard that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” in defending the anarchy in that movie.
“Inside Man” contains a number of scenes in which women are seen in their underwear and in which one of the detectives ogles a woman’s figure. Additionally, there are numerous swear words and profanity, with the Lord’s name being used self-consciously. Two examples of the latter are when a Spanish character named “Jesus” is seen abusing a subject, and when Detective Frazier threaten a character with having to perform sex with two inmates named “Jamaal and Jesus.” Lastly, there is the forceful vulgarism of “Miss White, you can kiss my black --!”
The movie’s judgment can be summarized as Russell and Frazier getting their reward in diamonds; the mayor and the banker getting their punishment up the posterior; and none of the victims of terrorism getting murdered. Cynical, perhaps, but all’s well that end’s well!