Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Spike Lee
Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Plummer
(R, 129 min.)
"The past is not a package one can lay away." Emily Dickinson
Like a talented chef creating a dish from someone’s leftovers, Spike Lee takes the stale ingredients of a bank heist and cooks up something surprisingly fresh. It’s not cops and robbers so much as psychological warfare, and with the likes of Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, and Clive Owen playing the mind games, who wouldn’t want a front row seat?
It all begins conventionally enough with a small group of painters entering a crowded New York bank, a not too curious security staff letting them slog their tarps and paint cans over the polished marble. Of course the audience knows that it’s not the color of the walls they care about. It’s the color of money.
Dalton Russell’s (Clive Owen) command to drop to the floor - punctuated with more F-bombs than seem necessary – alerts those in the lobby to their new roles as hostages. It gets more interesting when the assorted customers and bank employees are ordered to strip and don the identical overalls and face masks as their captors.
Meanwhile, Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) languishes at his desk, temporarily out of the action due to some $140,000 gone missing from a recent drug bust. But the head hostage negotiator is out of town, so Frazier and his partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are called into action. From the smiles on their faces, you’d think it was a bank holiday and not a bank robbery. (You may recall Ejiofor from Serenity, where he played an especially efficient assassin with a deferential charm, a reasoned grim reaper who pointed out his victim's deadly sins before helping him fall on his sword.) Unfortunately, his abundant talent is underused in this film.
Complicating their efforts are the usual police turf wars with an also underused Willem Defoe as Captain John Darius only reluctantly taking orders from Frazier. Frazier also has to contend with Madeline White (Jodie Foster), a behind the scenes fixer charged with some sleazy machinations on behalf of the very patrician bank president, Arthur Chase (Christopher Plummer).
Despite her three-inch heels and linen suits as flawless as her blue blood and high connections, she is a clawed tiger, and though her nails are polished and painted to perfection, they are ever so sharp. Her little interlocution with Frazier in the back of a limo is a WASP version of a ride with a mafia boss. The words are polite, but the threat is undeniable. Madeline White gets her private conversation with Dalton Russell, but a savvy Frazier exacts a few demands of his own from her.
Russell himself is a complex character with a quiet menace and cocky assurance. He is both meticulous and ruthless as he hunts down the cell phone a bank employee swears he left at home, dishing out some rough justice as a lesson to the rest. Yet, he talks kindly enough with the one hostage who is a child, becoming upset over the violent nature of the kid’s video game and deciding to talk to the father about this. He even tells Frazier that love and not money is most important, an irony not lost on the cop who responds, “Thank you, Mr. Bank Robber.”
Denzel Washington’s Frazier is a man comfortable in his own shoes, not to mention his snazzy hats, white suits, and bow ties. With a nearly shaved head, some bloat and baggage under his eyes, he is not the heart throb we remember, but his smile still lights the day and his lovely girl friend (Cassandra Freeman ) has no complaints, except one, the lack of a wedding ring. Their relationship, to my taste, overemphasizes the physical in a somewhat coarse way, but fits his earthy personality. So too with his sexually charged language, but again, it helps to delineate his character, a street wise cop who doesn’t pull any punches, verbal or otherwise.
The plot is full of enough twists to keep the audience guessing, although the script takes the risky choice of letting the audience know quite a bit more than Frazier, and somehow succeeds by keeping us off balance in other ways. One is the decision not to tell the story from start to finish. Sepia flashes of interviews with hostages taken after the siege are interspersed with the events of the siege, no explanation given. Given the trendy fixation on this jumbled time splicing, one begins to think that a story told from beginning to end would, nowadays, be the innovation.
The final spice to Inside Man is the bubbling broth of New York’s melting pot, complete with Brooklyn Albanians, a yarmulkaed hostage who gets in a pitch for his brother the diamond merchant during his debriefing, and a Sikh very upset about the loss of his turban. The Indian song that begins and ends the film underscores the diversity of the Big Apple and since we cannot understand a word of it, also creates a vague sense of unbalance, disorienting us just as much as the hostages.
By the time all the dust has cleared, what seems and what is are two entirely different things. Strangely enough, this altered reality radiates a kind of Karmic beauty.
Supplying the hostages and robbers with food and drink is an essential part of negotiations, sort of like the tip off in a basketball game. Who it benefits is up for grabs. If nothing else it buys time.
Frazier and his buds hope to buy something else – information. They choose pizza as the preferred food, since an eves dropping device can easily be hidden in the cardboard delivery boxes, and thus group conversation can be captured on tape.
And what better comfort food to get you through a bank robbery. I’ve chosen a delicious New York Style Pizza recipe below. If you prefer, you might also care to check out our recipes for Greek Pizza and Easter Pizza.
New York Style Pizza
"This is a no frills New York Pizza with heaps of mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. Use it as a base and add your favorite pizza toppings if you wish."
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 Minutes
Ready In: 1 Hour 25 Minutes
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 (10 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the warm water in a large bowl. Let stand for 1 minute, then stir to dissolve. Mix in the flour, salt and olive oil. When the dough is too thick to stir, turn out onto a floured surface, and knead for 5 minutes. Knead in a little more flour if the dough is too sticky. Place into an oiled bowl, cover, and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk.
- Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F (245 degrees C). If using a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven as well, setting it on the lowest shelf.
- When the dough has risen, flatten it out on a lightly floured surface. Roll or stretch out into a 12 inch circle, and place on a baking pan. If you are using a pizza stone, you may place it on a piece of parchment while preheating the stone in the oven.
- Spread the tomato sauce evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with oregano, mozzarella cheese, basil, Romano cheese and red pepper flakes.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bottom of the crust is browned when you lift up the edge a little, and cheese is melted and bubbly. Cool for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Recipe Source: allrecipes.com