Inside Man***There was a time when the film scene was dominated by New York City filmmakers, namely Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and in the early 1980s, Spike Lee. While it’s true Lee became synonymous with “angry black militant filmmaker,” it wasn’t always the case; he revived the role of the auteur like no other, bringing not just black filmmaking into legitimacy, but making it more than okay to present a sexually aggressive minority female in a leading role, like in “She’s Gotta Have it.” Back then, Lee was known for making fun of men and lifting up strong female characters, something sadly lacking in his later work, when he became all too obsessed with the idea of the “evil white woman” out to destroy the black man. When Lee started making films, he inspired whole generations to pack their bags, head to NYU and follow in his controversial, hilarious, entertaining footsteps. But, like Woody Allen before him, Lee’s star burned bright but at some point became distasteful to audiences. He had yet to find his way back from being written off as audiences avoided what they felt was a bummer message being shoved down their throat. Such is not the case with “Inside Man,” Lee’s best film in years. Is it his best because, unlike most of his early work, he didn’t write it? He hasn’t really written much since “Bamboozled” and has directed many films he didn’t write, like “She Hate Me” and “25th Hour.” None have been as well-received as his early films, like “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X.” “Inside Man” pairs up Lee with Denzel Washington as a NYPD detective trying to get a promotion, and his partner played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The two detectives must unravel the mystery of a bank robbery where no one was killed and nothing was stolen. The head bank robber (Clive Owen) had something bigger in mind, like bringing down a big wig with a shady past.Also in the mix is Jodie Foster as a powerful liaison between big time crooks and the businessmen they entangle themselves with. Foster asks what they want and she fulfills their need for a pretty penny, no doubt.With Washington as the always reliable lead, Foster and Owen, along with Christopher Plummer as the bank owner, “Inside Man” sees one of the best ensembles to come along in a while, particularly with the interplay between Washington and Ejiofor. The film topped the weekend box office, which will do much to revive Lee’s career and affirm Washington’s versatility as an actor as well as his solid ability to open a film. Taking his sweet time from beginning to end, Lee never rushes to tell this story (script by Russell Gewirtz) but lets it unfold, one revelation at a time, until the end comes into sharp focus, which makes it slightly unusual for a film released these days. What, no crappy ending? While “Inside Man” surely has its flaws (hard to believe the thing that Owen finds would have still existed after all this time – it could have been lost or burned). But the actors are so good, the plot so clean, it is easy to forgive the speedbumps along the way.The film takes us through the robbery where every detail has been carefully plotted, where the robber is always a step ahead of the cops and the audience. At first, it plays like a well-made heist film but at some point it becomes more than that. No, it isn’t a movie about racism or jungle fever – it is one of those crime films you can sink your teeth into, the kind they just don’t make anymore.
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