Reviews

Inside Man (2006)

Appearing in tight shots, the grainy hi-def digital exacerbating their complexities, the interviewees are traumatized or performative, sometimes both.


Inside Man

Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejoifor, Willem Dafoe
Distributor: Universal
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Universal
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2006-08-08
I don't need your fucking status report, Serpico.

-- Dalton (Clive Owen), Inside Man

The spiral staircase as Detective Frazier descends into the bowels of this corruption, these dirty people who'd sell their mother for money.

--Spike Lee, commentary track

"We're getting' old, Spike." As Denzel Washington and Spike Lee reminisce about their years of collaboration on "Number 4," included on the new DVD of Inside Man, their rhythm reflects a deep ease and inspiration. Their memories of the films they've made together -- Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, He Got Game, and now, Inside Man -- are specific (about preparation, shooting conditions, or actors they worked with, like the great Robin Harris). But the memories are also, inevitably, set in context. "Are we making progress?", they ask. Lee notes the great actors who get work, but also a continuing lack of clout at the decision-making level. "We go to these studios, man," he says, "The only black people we see is the guy at the gate."

The documentary serves as a helpful introduction to the film, which is as close to a commercial-minded product as Lee is bound to make (his next project, a four-hour documentary on Katrina, premieres on HBO at the end of August). Written by first-timer Russell Gewirtz, the plot is mostly concerned with a generic bank robbery/ingenious caper (whose production is tracked generically in "The Making of Inside Man"). The irrepressible Lee and Washington bring to this business a kind of formal expertise -- in look, performance, and tone -- that makes it all seem edgier than it might have been on the page.

Spike Lee announces that he's doing the commentary for Inside Man -- an enthusiastic, thoughtful, often disarming commentary -- on his birthday, 20 March. It's just before the film's premiere, and so he can't know that it will go on to make $88 million, more than any of his other flms. For the opening scene -- wherein criminal Dalton (Clive Owen) introduces his great scheme -- Lee says he uses "one of my signature shots, the double dolly shot." He notes such details throughout the commentary, as well as his decisions concerning framing and casting, the music and the allusions to movies and to the city. For the first scene set in the Manhattan bank, he wanted the about-to-be hostages to "represent the diversity of the New York City that I know and love," while the criminals appear without faces, just torsos in medium shots, or, in long shots, with dark glasses and caps. They look alike.

In fact, New York -- its diversity, energy, and improbability -- is everywhere in the film. Not just in the sweeping-through-the-streets or creeping-along-the-sidewalks shots, but also inside the bank, inside the minds of the cops trying to solve the case, and inside the exit interviews they conduct, in tight, hot-white-lit shots. New York is outside and inside in Inside Man, but mostly, it's the incisive focus, impetus, and consequence.

The detectives -- hostage negotiator Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and his partner Mitch (Chiwetel Ejoifor, whom Lee identifies, like everyone else, as the actor who knocked everyone's socks off in Dirty Pretty Things; he also has a part in She Hate Me) -- appear first at the station, oblivious to the robbery that you already know is in serious progress. Keith first appears on the phone with his cop girlfriend, promising her an evening with "Big Willy and the twins" (Lee actually explains what the term means, then says you probably knew anyway). Off the phone, Keith crabs about an Internal Affairs investigation into a missing $140,000. And then comes the call. The captain's favored team is somewhere else, and so, as Mitch exclaims, he and Keith are off to "the show."

The crime scene is already taped off, an area populated by shooters and uniforms, hulking vans and vocal gawkers. But even as the outside scene recalls Dog Day Afternoon (which Keith cites by name), inside, the robbers dress the hostages like themselves, shuffle them from room to room so they can't get to know one another, and dig up a wall in the storage room. Dalton also beats a bank employee (Peter Frechette) who tries to hide his cell phone, behind frosted glass, as Lee chortles about the "joke" that identifies the whiter-than-white liar, his "Golddigger" ring tone: "Now he's getting stomped!" narrates Lee. "Brooklyn style!" When the assault is finished, Dalton strides out of the room, leaving the body unconscious, his feet sticking out the doorway: "That reminds me of The Wizard of Oz," laughs Lee, "Remember when the house fell on the wicked witch? That's what we were after."

Outside, Keith has to make nice with turf-protecting Emergency Services Unit Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe), still mad at him for some case they worked years ago. Among the bridges Keith will be burning during this adventure is a relationship with bank board chairman Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer, about whom Lee says, "Please do not mention The Sound of Music around Christopher Plummer!"), who shows up to offer "support," whatever he can do. When the cops send him away, Case sends a minion, a well-dressed, perfectly coiffed, excruciatingly intelligent fixer, Madeline White (Jodie Foster, whose legs Lee describes as "hellified"), introduced as she's arranging for Bin Laden's nephew to purchase a condo.

"Miss White," as she's called repeatedly, gets exactly what she wants when she wants it. (When the mayor calls her a "magnificent cunt," Lee reminds you, "It's a very ugly word," and says he checked with Foster before including it in the film. "That's worse than 'bitch' and 'ho.'") She tries to bribe Keith (their two primary scenes together, Lee notes, are comprised on single takes and slow push-ins, with the director just "stay[ing] out of their way"). She plays Case, knows exactly how to reach out to Dalton when she's sent in to negotiate. And yet, she can't quite solve the puzzle embodied by Case, which involves a special personal safe deposit box inside the bank. (The answer to this puzzle is Inside Man's least effective move, a cliché you'll likely guess long before the film ends.)

Miss White's presence highlights a couple of ideas that drive the film. One, the folks with money do pull the strings, but they don't know (or want to know) the details of the wreckage they leave behind. This would be the purview of Keith, as well Dalton, who has his own sort of insight into how the system works. Matching wits with the cops, he admires Keith's pluck and ingenuity, but presumes he's smarter, as all villains must. He spends some time with a couple of the hostages, in particular, a small boy who plays a handheld video game, "Kill Dat Nigga." "This is one of my favorite scenes, right here," says Lee. One of many unscripted scenes (most others occur in the flashforward police interrogations of witnesses). "I really wanted to make a comment on this bullshit, this gangsta rap infatuation with violence." (Lee says he's unafraid to speak: "I'm not on Interscope Records, Jimmy Iovine does not own me.") The violence exhibited by the robbers has nothing on what kids see and imagine every day in the city. Dalton voices his concern: "I've got to talk to your father."

In between the figuring and plotting, the film flash-forwards to exit interviews with the hostages, Mitch and Keith cracking jokes, pressing them to confess their collaboration, jumping at or leaning into them to solicit responses. The exchanges -- anxious, audacious, arrogant -- is all about post-9/11 New York. Appearing in tight shots, the grainy hi-def digital exacerbating their complexities, the interviewees are traumatized or performative, sometimes both.

Tense, showy, and shrewd, the movie's cleverest moments involve odd and telling details: the opening credits' use of "Chaiyya Chaiyya" (Lee says he heard it in an Indian film recommended by an NYU student, and decided then and there that he'd use it in his next film), the white guy who recognizes but cannot translate Albanian language, and perhaps most energetically, Vikram (Waris Ahluwalia), the Sikh who resents being profiled as "Arab."

Thinking he's one of the robbers, the cops tackle Vikram, take his turban, then refuse to return it to him ("Arabs are the new boogiemen," observes Lee, after explaining there is a difference between Sikhs and Arabs, "The Russians supplanted the Nazis, now it's the Arabs"). When Keith and Mitch pull him into the diner they're using for a headquarters and question him, he finally has enough. "Protect and serve, my ass," Vikram grumbles, remembering being profiled at airports and on the street. "I'm fucking tired of this shit. What happened to my fucking civil rights? Why can't I go anywhere without being harassed?"

Keith smiles, a little. "Bet you can get a cab though." Lee laughs out loud. "Now, for those who don't live in New York," he says, "Here's what that was about." He goes on to explain that most cabbies are from Pakistan and India. "Here's the thing: black people been here for 400 years, and these people just got here, and black men still can't catch a cab." Competing traumas, leveling oppressions, comparable determinations: it's New York, up and down.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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