"Pay attention, because I'm only going to say this once and I never repeat myself." Clive Owen's character, Russell, looks directly into the camera and tells us to pay attention. Don't feel the need. It's a staight forward story and although you may be trying to figure out how things are going to pan out, you don't need to be looking for major clues or paying special attention to anything. Many people will walk out of the theater and say this film is another tired story of a bank robbery/hostage situation where the criminals are always one step ahead of the cops. And that would be a fair assessment. However, the characterization and deeper story of what is really going on makes this film so much more. Plus, the style in which the story is told and the way things are presented and unfolded to the audience really had me riveted.
Owen stars as a "criminal mastermind" who has planned the perfect bank robbery. He enters the bank and takes everyone hostage with the help of a few cohorts. When a beat cop discovers smoke coming from the bank and realizes the doors are locked in the middle of the afternoon, he calls for back up. Enter Denzel. He plays substitue detective Russell; assigned to negotiate with the robber inside the bank. What does this crook want? He makes unreasonable demands simply to stall for time and seems to know exactly what the cops are thinking at all times. How? Why?
Russell works closely with New York's finest. One of whom is played by the always fantastic Willem Dafoe. The way the cops interact with one another as they try to decide what to do throughout the film was such a breath of fresh air compared to the way cops are portrayed in most movies. Here, they are truly shown as people. They aren't the smartest guys on the planet, but they aren't idiots either. The arguments and discussions they have make sense in a human way; as opposed to an idiot cop/stupid script kind of way.
When I mentioned style, it has it's share of fall-downs; some strange uses of camera movement that slap you in the face unnecessarily. All they do is pull you out of the story and remind you you're watching a movie. They are completely out of place and you'll know what I'm talking about when they occur. But I'm nit-picking. The style I liked is really the story style, or how the story is told. 70% of the film is told in present time: watching the bank robbery, the detectives outside and the general story. But occasionally we actually flash forward in time to see Frazier (Denzel) interviewing hostages from the bank at the police station. So right away, we sort of know how the hostage situation ends. But, we don't know why the robbery happened or if the bad guy is caught or dead or what. It's an interesting tactic: giving the audience a little bit of insight right away as to how things will turn out.
There is a side story to the whole plot that is slightly intriguing, but kind of unnecessary, though without it, we would never had Jodie Foster in the film. When I saw the trailer for this movie a couple months back, I got the feeling that Foster plays a character that maybe isn't the most honest or principled of people. I was right. She doesn't really play a villain or bad guy, but she's not exactly good either. I've been thinking about her in a villainous role since I saw the trailer and couldn't wait to see how it would turn out. I was rewarded well. She plays a brilliant, rich, powerful woman who can "get things done." The make-up department took extra care to make her look very snake looking. With her hair pulled back tight, too much make-up and a look that says "stay away." I loved it. She was obviously a woman you don't want to mess with, or most likely, have anything to do with. As my favorite actress, I would love to see her in more roles like this. The problem with her character, is that she was not fully explained. What kind of person has this kind of power? She's not a politician, so who does she work for and how does she have the power that she does. Overlooking this fact, villains are often my favorite part of films and I wished she would've had a bit more screen time, because her character was so devilishly delightful and interesting.
The rest of the big name cast members were great too. I'm a big fan of all these stars. Denzel was his usual great self, Clive Owen is easily the Hollywood star who has risen the furthest and most quickly up my own personal ranking scale over the past year. And hell, when Willem Dafoe is cast fifth, you know it's a great line-up and you are in for a treat. And you are.
When it comes to plot, you may find it to be predictable, and you may not. I found myself figuring things out, but actually being surprised that I had figured them out. And when I realized I was right, I wasn't mad that the film was so predictable. I was smiling at the way the plot happened to unfold. Difficult to explain, but see if you have the same experience. Having said all that, I don't think it's a predictable movie at all. It's just a few things that I figured out or thought might happen and they did end up happening. The "what happens at the end" moment I was not prepared for. And I chuckled at the smartness of the film in the final five seconds of the last reel.
Now, as much as I like it, there are a few issues I have with the story. I'm afraid I would give too much away to really discuss them too much, but let's just say there are some age discrepencies in one of the characters and also the whole premise of why the bank is being robbed is slightly unbelievable. I think you should be able to look past these faults and still see a fairly good, interesting plot unravel.
Definitely worth the money this time. Spike Lee is really hit or miss for me and he delivered an intelligent bank robbery movie that still had the elements of big budget action, script and stars, that I enjoy, mixed in. It would probably be just as enjoyable as a rental this summer, but why not see it now and tell everyone you saw the new Spike Lee joint, "Inside Man," over the weekend and you are more up to date on pop-culture than they are?
Seriously, I think you will really enjoy yourself unless you are a major film snob.