Inside Man

Film
CHAT ROOM Washington, left, and Owen talk the talk.
CHAT ROOM Washington, left, and Owen talk the talk.

Time Out says

Heist films, like their criminal characters, live or die by their professionalism: Can they pull off the job successfully? For the first third of Spike Lee’s workman-like take on the genre, there’s no question that the director is on the mark, carefully constructing the story with a keen eye for procedural details. How Lee puts everything into motion is undeniably exciting: A mastermind crook (Owen) and his masked goons infiltrate a Manhattan bank; the head detective (Washington) tries to counter the gang’s every move; a high-priced situation fixer (Foster) is thrown into the mix. You’re so enthralled over the initial expertise that you don’t mind if Lee’s vibrant personality, usually present in every frame, seems submerged beneath the forward-moving narrative.

Except that the director moves out of for-hire mode once things get a little more complicated, and ironically, it’s when he does start asserting himself that the film becomes uneven. Lee’s asides about New York’s uneasy racial melting pot add depth, but the sudden appearance of the director’s signature camera trickery just distracts. Longtime collaborator Terence Blanchard’s score is all over the map—lite-jazzy one minute, hyped-up John Barry the next—and the postclimactic plot wrap-ups seem way too pat. The director has proved he can handle the heist-flick corners; when Inside Man starts reminding you it’s a Spike Lee joint, however, you just wish he’d get back in touch with his inner Don Siegel. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)—David Fear

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