Inside Man (US - BD)
Gabe planned the perfect bank robbery, but he's already in his pajamas...
Following the inception of an exacting and clever bank heist New York detectives Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are brought into a sticky situation. The robbers have weapons, explosives, hostages, and—in every other respect—the upper hand. Meanwhile Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), chairman of the board of directors and founder of the bank, hires a high profile ‘fixer’ named Madeleine White (Jodie Foster) to arrange for the contents of his safe deposit box to remain secret. The closer Frazier, Mitchell, and White get to the heist’s leader (Clive Owen), the more obvious it becomes that he has intent beyond simple money.
The last ten years have been pretty good for Spike Lee. He entered the new millennium proving he could make films outside of his comfort zone, starting with the masterful and indelible Summer of Sam. He continued to adapt his style to include films like The 25th Hour, and augmented his filmography by producing and directing some of the decade’s most compelling documentaries. In 2006 Lee finally tackled popcorn entertainment. He didn’t quite take the obvious route, and didn’t make a superhero epic or a disaster flick. Recognizing his strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing room for minor political comment, Lee made a heist film. Inside Man isn’t a fluffy film by any measure, but Lee genuinely proves his ability to tell an energetic, and generally light-hearted story (minus a few curse words he probably could’ve even managed a PG-13 rating).
Inside Man is an energetic blast of a film, and probably the most effortlessly watchable Lee’s made since Do the Right Thing (the sheer runtime of Malcolm X prevents it from crossing my set as often as it deserves). The camera is always moving, the dialogue is always snappy, in a refreshingly natural manner (apparently a lot of it was improvised), the plot unfolds like a silk handkerchief, and the all-star cast begs watching for their mix of genuine hijinx, and stone cold stoicism. Lee brings together a super high calibre cast, and none of them comes saddled with any of the baggage of their more heavy handed work. Clive Owen gets a chance to emote his own brand of bad-ass without a smattering of his bad-ass façade, Denzel Washington gets to riff on his special brand of bad-ass without taking himself too seriously, and Jodi Foster gets to remind us how bad-ass she can be (and those legs, holy cow!).
Dog Day Afternoon is one of my all time favourite movies, maybe even my absolute favourite, and most bank heist films (even those well received ones) just looks like a cheap knock-off in comparison. Lee overcomes the comparison early by paying direct homage throughout the film, including members of his cast (some of which were in Lument’s film) and a few direct name drops. It’s an uneasy balance between covering one’s ass as a copycat, and acknowledging inspiration, and I believe Lee finds it here. The actual plot doesn’t follow Dog Day very closely (beyond the obvious), which helps matters as well, even if I did guess about three fourths of the twists before we got to them.
Lee includes many of his directing trademarks, including characters breaking the 4th wall and speaking directly to camera, characters floating through crowds, and, of course, the placement of the story within New York City. The NYC aspects open the film up to deeper interpretations, like those of The 25th Hour. I believe Inside Man is just as much about 9/11 beneath the crust as The 25th Hour, and not just because of its more clear-cut references to modern terrorism (a cop’s reaction to a bystander wearing a turban, for example). Lee doesn’t actively mention it on the commentary track, but I read a lot of sadness into his establishing shots of the city. There are two giant buildings missing from every shot.
There are two distinct looks used in the film. The first is the natural and cool look of the actual heist. Lee and cinematographer Matthew Libatique utilize steel blues without over doing the James Cameron look, or appearing too over-stylistic. This isn’t the real New York City (even if it was filmed on location), but it’s not sci-fi NYC either. The look is clean and finished, with reasonably sharp edges, and about an average level of contrast. Details are as clear as the lighting allows, and during the night-time scenes that’s pretty minimal. The dark scenes feature clean highlights, and are much easier to discern than the less crystalline DVD release, which was also a bit burned by edge enhancement. There’s very little compression sound on this disc, though the colours are muted enough to not be that much brighter than the SD release. The second look is found in the interrogation scenes, where the contrast is cranked to nearly blinding levels, and the bright lighting is defused to a shine. These scenes are almost black and white, with nearly perfect black and white levels. The softened colour pallet is solid and nicely cut. These sequences also feature a great deal of grain compared to the relatively smooth look of the rest of the film.
Unsurprisingly Inside Man is a film based around a plot and dialogue, so surround sound isn’t a very important element to the mix. Spike Lee’s films are known for their musical use, but not so much for their sound effects design, so it’s a little surprising how flashy this DTS-HD track gets from time to time. Most of the surround work is devoted to incidental NYC street noise, but there are some very cool directional effects that wrap with the camera as it spins around the actors. The most impressive moment of all is a stylized ‘what-if’ SWAT scenario, which isn’t quite as bombastic as more aggressive action films, but features many effective directional effects. I’m kind of undecided on Terence Blanchard’s score. It’s definitely in-keeping with the composer’s usual style, that of jazz influenced theatrics, but it’s almost too overbearing sometimes, like Herrmann on steroids. It sounds fantastic on the track. There isn’t a lot of motion play, but the warmth and bass is quite natural and intense.
Spike Lee begins this, one of his most evenly toned commentary tracks ever, joyfully informing us that the film is still fresh in his mind. There’s not an excess of behind the scenes information, and a little too much description of on-screen action, but it’s still one of the director’s better talky efforts. Spike lasts about an hour before he really runs out of stuff to talk about, but it’s a pretty good effort for a guy that doesn’t usually give very good commentary.
The commentary is followed by five deleted scenes. The scenes are anamorphically enhanced, appearing relatively finished, though the audio is obviously not finished. The ‘deleted scene’ title is a little misleading in the case of the first scene, which is made up re-cut versions of the interrogation scenes. Some of the footage is different, but a lot of it is the same stuff. The other four scenes are extraneous plotting and a fake newscast.
‘The Making of Inside Man’ (10:20, SD) is a better than average EPK, which is mostly made as an elongated trailer. The interviews are informative, but aimed towards praising everything as a profitable commodity. The cast reading footage is a good and unusual addition. ‘Number 4’ (10:00, SD) is a quick and joyful featurette with Lee and Denzel Washington discussing their working relationship over four films ( Mo’ Better Blues, Malcolm X, He Got Game, and Inside Man).
Inside Man stand up to multiple viewings, and is an entertaining piece of pop candy. Spike Lee infuses the film with enough subtle undertones to please his usual fans, while the script is clever enough to entice the masses. It’s a beautifully crafted film, so the increased definition of Blu-ray is a big plus, and the DTS-HD 5.1 track is a bit of a surprise given the film’s dialogue based structure. The extras aren’t fantastic, but better than average, especially the deleted scenes and the brief but entertaining ‘Number 4’.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 2nd June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Deleted Scenes, The Making of Inside Man, Number 4
Easter Egg: No
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe
Length: 129 minutes
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