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Film Review ***: Inside Clive Owen, A Breakout Performance

Robbery Thriller Captivates from Start to Finish

By Yong-Yi Zhu

Inside Man

Directed by Spike Lee

Written by Russell Gewirtz

Starring Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster

Rated R

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Think of “Inside Man” as a Da Vinci Code-esque film, with a huge mystery hidden behind small clues revealed every so often. The film draws us in right from the get-go, and it doesn’t release us until the final secret is unveiled. We all know something great is going to be revealed at the end, but don’t have enough clues to put it all together before then.

The movie opens with Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) telling us he has planned the perfect robbery. Yet, somehow, he is in prison. The rest of the film slowly clues us in on how well-planned the robbery is, and also shows why Dalton is imprisoned.

The day of the robbery starts just like any other; tons of people are lined up at a bank in downtown Manhattan. Suddenly, a group of people in painter’s suits, complete with masks, walk in, take control, and force the hostages to put on the same suits so that robbers and hostages become indistinguishable.

At the same time, Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is called to duty because the usual hostage negotiator is away, so he and his partner, Detective Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor), take to the scene and attempt to defuse the situation.

As the detectives try to think of ways to free the hostages, the robbers are consistently two steps ahead — perhaps the robbery is perfect after all.

To add to the trouble, bank owner Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) panics — he is worried about a safe deposit box in the bank that contains very sensitive information. To protect himself, he hires Madeline White (Jodie Foster) to find a way to get to the safe deposit box, and either obtain or destroy its contents. To do this, she has to interfere with the investigation and potentially derail all of the work of the detectives.

You wonder: if this robbery is so perfect, why is Dalton in prison? How exactly is he going to get out of the bank, if he ever does? And what exactly is in that safety deposit box?

Clive Owen excels as the bank robber. His calm and collected voice exudes confidence, even when he is upset. You get the feeling that Owen is conducting a well-rehearsed orchestra instead of pulling off a heist; he knows the exact score of the movie, and he can get any actor to do whatever he wants at any time.

On the other hand, Jodie Foster’s character is as superfluous to the film as Clive Owen’s is essential. White intrudes on a dance between Owen and Washington, and as important to the plot as she seems, she simply does not have enough presence and airtime to really impact the movie or bring any depth.

Denzel Washington also is disappointing, playing the two-dimensional cop who tries too hard to think out and calculate the Dalton’s every move. Instead, he comes off as a not-so-bright detective who lacks the ability to keep up with a common criminal.

Despite the average acting, the plot and the idea behind the movie are addictive. This may be not just the perfect robbery, but the perfect thriller as well.