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Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier
Clive Owen as Dalton Russell
Jodie Foster as Madeline White
Christopher Plummer as Arthur Case
Willem Dafoe as Captain John Darius
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Detective Bill Mitchell
Carlos Andres Gomez as Steve
Kim Director as Stevie
James Ransome as Steve-O
Bernie Rachelle as Chaim
Peter Gerety as Captain Coughlin
A group of heavily armed, masked individuals stages a daring daylight robbery of a Manhattan bank and Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is the negotiator with the thankless job of making sure the bad guys get caught and none of the hostages get killed. But when the mayor, a rich banker (Christopher Plummer) and a power broker (Jodie Foster) start showing an unusual interest in what is rapidly becoming an unusual robbery, Frazier begins to dread that things are more than they seem, and only the mystery robber (Clive Owen) seems to know what's really going on.
"Inside Man" is a well-timed and executed thriller that's heavy on procedure but with enough character moments put into the hands of strong actors to give it more than a mere procedurals weight. One of the most commercial films director Spike Lee has made in some time, it showcases his still formidable visual talent and ability as a storyteller.
It's truly an ensemble piece, with characters left and gone back to as the narrative shifts back and forth in time. Washington is just as fiery as he's ever been - he could do this part in his sleep, but even in his sleep he's easy and fun to watch. Clive Owen is, as usual, very, very dry - but as long as he keeps doing turns where that works for him (including "Inside Man") it's not a noticeable problem. Foster does the best work as an incredibly smarmy and morally vacuous power broker and influence peddler brought in to hide the bank owner's past sins by any means at her disposal, a role she rarely finds herself in but plays very well.
If there's a downside to the film it is the procedural nature of it. It is entirely about the How (and to a lesser degree, the What) with very little of the Why, most of which is shoved into the overly long denouement. Lee uses a number of tricks to keep the story compelling - giving the audience advance warning about what is going to happen and making them want to see how - but the lack of motive or characterization of the robbers, while true to the structure of the story, makes it seem a bit flat. At the end of the day, it's not really about anything; it's just a bunch of stuff that happens.
But it's a bunch of stuff that's fun to watch.
"Inside Man" is rated R for language and some violent images.