Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spike serves his medicine with sweet noir.

Recommendation: Inside Man.

I'm a huge fan of Spike Lee. Except for those stupid ass commercials he did with the king of sweatshop peddlers. I think I make at least three references to "Do the Right Thing" weekly (the racial slur scene, the money throwing scene, and Samuel L Jackson's "That's the truth, Ruth" among them). The end of Bamboozled left me sobbing uncontrollably. I even find myself riveted to She Hate Me, despite Spike going all Ruby K and attacking everything that moves with that. Get On The Bus, Jungle Fever, School Daze, the Autobiography of Malcolm X, Mo Better Blues... a pretty damn fine collection. Spike makes great films that ask hard questions about race, gender, culture, relationships, art, politics, religion. I don't always agree with him, but he pushes in ways that not a lot of folks do.

Now, suppose Spike Lee was to take those questions, those thoughts and ideas, and smuggle them into your head inside the delicious confection of a noir/mystery/heist movie. LA Confidential meets Do the Right Thing, or Easy Rawlins gets reborn as an NYPD Detective in modern day NYC. You wouldn't necessarily think it from the commercials or the previews, but all of Spike's usual questions and are there: where does making money override ethics? how does race and stereotypes play into everything we see and do? And it's great to see characters with depth, emotion, and intensity, being played to the hilt by a spectacular cast. Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor were all spectacular, and there were some folks in smaller roles that also shined.

What's great about this film is not just that Spike is pushing and prodding us, but he's also using those very stereotypes to dovetail with the twists and turns of the noir format. Who's good? Who's bad? Who are you rooting for? Detective Keith Frazer (Washington) isn't all he seems. Dalton Russell (Owen) starts the film with a very presumptuous monologue, but is he just a mean bankrobber? In one of the funniest scenes of the movie, he's talking with an 8 year old about the violent games on his portable playstation. Captain Darius (Dafoe) seems insulting and trigger happy at first, but shows more. Even power-broker Madeline White (Foster) has a moment or three.

A crime where just about everybody can win? And Denzel speaks a bissel Yiddish as a bonus? Sounds crazy, eh? But Spike wasn't kidding us, when he says he's planning, through Russell, "the perfect bank robbery."

A mindful, mystery/action flick? Go see it. It's just what Dr. Lee ordered.


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