Thursday, November 18, 2010

Inside Man

Directed by: Spike Lee
Produced by: Brian Grazer
Written by: Russell Gewirtz
Starring: Denzel Washington; Clive Owen; Willem Dafoe; Chiwetel Ejiofor; Jodie Foster; Christopher Plummer
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Release date(s): March 23, 2006
Running time 129 minutes
Language English

Being an admirer of Spike Lee and a huge fan of Danzel Washington, it’s a surprise that I never came around to see ‘Inside Man’ when it was released in 2006. Blame it on the reviews. The reviews I chanced upon called it a disappointment, and I did want to spend time on a disappointed Danzel fare. It was that time before I came to the realisation that a disappointing Spike Lee film can be better than those box office blockbusters.

I did catch the start of the film in a TV channel though, some years ago, and was struck by its soundtrack — a vehicle is driving through New York city and the soundtrack plays ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya,’ from Mani Ratnam’s ‘Dil Se’. Now, this is one of my favourite Hindi songs (you remember the picturisation, Shah Rukh Khan atop a moving train, in a red jacket, gyrating with sultry Malaika Arora). I should like the film just for using the song (which also appears in the end credits.).

I liked the film, and yes, the film is disappointing, in a way. It’s not a simple bank heist film, as the plot point suggests; like all Lee films, there are so many things going on at the same time, commentary on culture, racism, capitalism, video game, violence, love, the Albanian president, Sikh immigrants in New York, post 26/11 and what not. But, at the end, everything does not come to fruition, at least not in a way we expect them, that’s the disappointing part.

The major problem with the film is the premises on which it is based. A certain Mr Case worked with the Nazis during WWII, for which he received a large sum. He took the money and started a bank. Later, he felt guilty about what he had done, and has been trying to atone for it since. But why did not he destroy the evidence that could incriminate him, instead of keeping it in his bank since 1948? And, if there was no witness to his war crimes, how the robber mastermind, Dalton Russell, played by Clive Owen, knows about it till the last detail? And how, pray, Mr Case (Christopher Plummer), who worked with the Nazis, is still alive and kicking, in perfect good health? No answers to all that.

And then, between the heist and the hostage situation, between Russell and Detective Keith Fazier, with a Z, there appears a mystery woman, Miss White (the ever smart Jodie Foster). But who is she, and how she wields such powers? What about her own motives?

You trust Lee to bend a traditional heist-hostage film. You don’t expect him to do the run-on-the-mill stuff. For example, through the hostage situation unfolds like any other film, it ends in an ingenuous way. And very smart indeed. Nobody gets hurt, nobody dies, and everybody is happy, everything is good in the world, as Miss White says. But the film does end here. It then turns its energy to a Cartier diamond and the skills of Detective Frazier, and the crimes of Mr Case — the film has entirely been his case, after all.

And wait, the film still does not end. After all, our good detective Frazier must get married and he must have a diamond for his bride.

The film suffers from a paradox — over-explanation and over-mystery. There are things that are explained beyond necessary. At the heat of the hostage situation, we see the detectives interviewing the hostages, so we know everything went well. But, there are so many things that are not explained at all, like the real motive to Russell. So when he says, “Respect is the real currency,” in the end, it sounds a little corny.

Nonetheless, as I said earlier, a bad Spike Lee movie is better than your average summer blockbuster — there are so many things going on, like Russell giving a lecture against the violence in video games, like Frazier teaching a white cop when to say African American, like the Sikh bank employee complaining about the treatment meted out to him (he is suspected a terrorist because he is wearing a turban.). And the actors are first rate — Danzel Washington has mastered the role of a black man in a white situation, in nearly all his movies, yet he is always powerful, always articulate, always robust. Clive Owen though does not get much chances, what with half the time he is forced to cover his face in a musk. He’s a terrific actor, nevertheless.

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