Tuesday, 19 September 2006

DVD: Inside Man

Lowdown: The story of a bank robbery in modern day Manhattan tells us the real robbers are the ones on top.
Review:
We rented this DVD looking for a cheap thriller that would pass two hours of our evening time with a smile on our faces. However, I was taken by surprise a minute or two into the film, when the credits announced: "A Spike Lee joint".
Immediately, I set the pillows behind my back to support a more upright and attentive posture rather than a semi lying down position, carefully orienting myself in the sweet spot. A Spike Lee film deserves honor, because Spike Lee delivers.
Ten years ago I knew Spike Lee primarily as a weirdo New York Knicks fan who happens to direct films. My views changed with "He Got Game", which I really liked. Lately, I found his "25th Hour" to be a truly excellent film; and with that in mind, I set up my mind to make the most of Inside Man, and I'll put it this way: I was not disappointed in a bit.
The film tells the story of a sophisticated bank robbery taking place in New York's Wall Street area. When you watch a Spike Lee film, you know that New York is where his films take place, but you also know that New York is the ultimate subject of his films; this one follows suit perfectly. You will find the word "perfect" to be used a lot in this review, because I will spoil it all and tell you that I found Inside Man to be a perfect film. And I mean it.
Clive Owen, playing the chief bank robber, is in charge of both the hostages and the narration of the story. However, we see things through the eyes of Denzel Washington, a Spike Lee regular (joined by many others of Lee's regulars), who portrays a hard going police detective with a stain on his name that needs clearing that is put in charge of handling the robbery through circumstances. This irregular way of driving the plot while slowly revealing more and more information as the detective figures out what is really going on in this more than meets the eye story is managed perfectly by the director, who pours in complexities from all directions in the shape of Christopher Plummer who has a lot to lose from this robbery and Jodie Foster, a sophisticated agent hired by Plummer to make sure things go his way. The usual Spike Lee collection of New York characters is thrown in to this rich mixture of talent to spice it all up.
We've been through this type of film before many a time: a film where we know a bit of what is going to happen, but when it happens we find out that our perception of it was wrong and we were actually being fooled by the director. Most of the time these tricks don't work, and when you learn the truth you end up disappointed; but not in the perfect film that is Inside Man.
A lot of elements prevent it from failing: the actors and the script, for a start. But most of all it's Lee who is to blame for creating a perfect New York story with an agenda and mastering it as a perfect work of art through things like the use of high contrast film for that unique look, careful compositioning, and masterful cinematography and editing.
But most of all I'd blame the film's agenda for its perfection. Lee's New York story is there to tell us what Lee thinks, which is that while there are many bad things mixed into New York, it is the hard working people (represented by Denzel Washington) that make it the great place it is; however, those hard working people are being betrayed by the people on top, and the higher you go up the food chain the more corrupt things get. The road to the top is paved with blood, and the real villains of this world are not the small time crooks that are so abundant in New York but who never really had a chance, but rather the big companies and the people ruling them that stand to earn a lot of money from the misery they create.
As perfect as the film is, mechanics wise, it is this agenda with which I full heartedly agree that makes it the perfect message inducer it is.
Best scene: It's really hard to choose from the many potential contenders. The scene I remember best is the one where a hostage child playing a violent Grand Theft Auto game on his Sony PSP demos the game to Clive Owen, who is holding him hostage. Owen is quite taken aback with the violence in the game, which is not exactly what one would expect from someone holding hostages at gunpoint while robbing a bank.
Picture quality: On one hand, the use of high contrast film stock means that overall, there are probably many DVD's out there sporting what seems to be a better, clearer picture. However, once you take the choice of film stock into account as an artistic choice made by the director on purpose in order to make a point, the picture quality turns out to be state of the art excellent. Color fidelity, the level of detail, the lack of digital artifacts - it is very obvious that someone took great pains mastering this DVD in order to guarantee the highest quality. A look at the files reveals this two hour long film consumes almost 8gb on the DVD, significantly more than the "industry standard" for picture bandwidth.
Sound quality: Spike Lee excellent, with very active surround envelopment immersing you in the film and an excellent musical soundtrack that is very well mastered to support and drive the experience.
Overall: The perfect score for the perfect film. 5 stars.

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