Director Spike Lee's Inside Man seems eager to raise many questions, but it can't really be bothered to answer any of them.
It begins with Dalton Russell. Dalton is an intensely calm man who insists—twice—that he never repeats himself. He and his small crew of associates enter a downtown Manhattan bank dressed in painters' coveralls (complete with hoods, masks and dark sunglasses that nobody seems to notice). They shut down the video cameras with infrared light, lock the doors and take over the bank and its occupants. A street cop happens by, and what looks like a well orchestrated bank robbery turns into a well orchestrated hostage situation.
Enter Detective Frazier, a rough-edged negotiator who is currently in hot water with his superiors over some missing money from his last big case. He tries to wrest control away from the robbers, but manages only to stay one step behind Dalton. Every time he attempts a negotiation technique, he's countered. On top of that, Dalton and his crew don't seem to be focusing on the money in the vault at all. So what are they really up to?
When the bank's founder and chairman of the board, Mr. Case, finds out about the robbery attempt, he calls in a specialist, Madeline White. The stilettos clad Ms. White isn't hired to bag the burglars, though. She's hired to use her power broker connections (she seemingly knows and controls everybody) to protect the contents of a single safety deposit box. She, with New York City's mayor at her side, bribes Frazier with a promotion and a promise of resolution for his current missing money troubles. She has gained access to Dalton.
If this is starting to sound confusing, you've only dipped your toe in the big muddy. Inside Man serves red herrings like Mickey D's serves burgers. Why are the crooks digging a hole in the floor of the bank supply closet? Why do they keep moving the hostages from room to room? Why are they stalling when they should be running? What does the President of Albania have to do with a Manhattan break-in? And we haven't even gotten to the Nazis yet.
Dalton lets his nurturing side show as he deals with an 8-year-old captive. The boy is the only hostage not terrorized and is even set aside in an area by himself where he can play his PlayStation Portable. When Dalton brings him some food, he takes a look at the violent shooter game the kid is playing and comments about how games that reward violence shouldn't be a part of a kid's arsenal. (The filmmakers seem to revel in the irony of his condemnation.) Equally at odds with his character are statements Dalton makes about evil deeds always being punished, and that no matter how hard you try to run from them, your sins will find you out. He insists that respect is the only currency worth cultivating.
The police work diligently to rescue the hostages.
The bank robbers force all of the hostages to strip down to their underwear. The camera pans across both men and women. Breast size and cleavage become clues to the crime and Frazier's partner leers openly at one of the hostages during her interview.
Frazier gets a call from his live-in girlfriend, and they talk with suggestive innuendo (some of it relating to S&M fetishes) about their planned evening together. Later, when Frazier is delayed because of the case, she calls his cell phone while lounging seductively in lingerie on her bed. The film concludes with another lingering shot of her.
Frasier makes a crude remark about having visited a $5 prostitute. He trades jokes with Dalton about prison rape and sex with multiple partners.
Dalton and Co. threaten, intimidate (with guns) and push people around when they take over the bank, but the most prominent violence takes place much later as the robbers, in an effort to unnerve the police, stage a terrorist-style execution. The video cameras are turned on and a hooded man is shot in the back of the head.
In an effort to make sure they've collected everyone's cell phone, Dalton threatens a bank manager by jamming a gun barrel into his cheek. The weeping manager denies having a cell. When Dalton subsequently finds the manager's phone, he takes him behind a translucent window and savagely beats him. We hear the man's screams and pleas, and later see his wounds. When the bank customers are told to get face down on the floor, a rabbi who remains standing is roughly shoved down with, "You get the same treatment as everybody else, rabbi!"
As the police plan a raid on the bank, the film shows us the bloody body count their plan might rack up if enacted. Police shoot hostages with rubber bullets.
As Dalton examines the boy's video game, we get a full-screen view of its Grand Theft Auto-style action. Men are shooting out of car windows and one thug slashes an opponent's face to ribbons, then stuffs a grenade into his victim's mouth blowing his head off.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The 8-year-old comments, with obvious pride, that selling crack in his video game earns him extra points. A man is seen sleeping with a bottle of booze in his hand. Mr. Case makes use of his office decanter. Several characters smoke.
After you slide all the fresh fish off the counter, you're left with Mr. Case's mysterious safety deposit box and its swastika-emblazoned contents. But that begs the question: Why would somebody keep such documents that serve as incriminating links to horrific atrocities? Hasn't this guy ever heard of a paper shredder? And now that we're asking important questions, how does Dalton find out about this hidden stuff? Without that knowledge, his perfect crime could never have happened. And why is Ms. White even in this movie? She comes in with unbelievable power and bravado and ... doesn't do anything.
By the time it was over, I had to wonder if I'd taken a nap at some point and missed all the important stuff. The dramatic action had finished, and then, 15 minutes later, Frazier finally catches up with us, nods his head in appreciation of Dalton's "work" and the projector stumbles to a stop. I almost wish Spike Lee (Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing) had been trying to spoof heist movies by making one that doesn't make sense. At least that would make sense.
[Spoiler Warning] The good/bad guy, Dalton, gets away with it. The corrupt officials get slaps on the wrists and Frazier gets his promotion. Nothing's really right, so nothing's really wrong. If a film, no matter how polished, says nothing better about life than "Everybody's gonna grab their chunk and run," does that make good drama? Are we satisfied by that? Should we be?
Which leads me to one last question concerning this film: What else is playing?