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Four people dressed in painters' outfits march into the busy lobby of Manhattan Trust, a cornerstone Wall Street Branch of a worldwide financial institution. Within seconds, the costumed robbers place the bank under a surgically planned siege, and the 50 patrons and staff become unwitting pawns in an airtight heist. NYPD hostage negotiators Detectives Keith Frazier and Bill Mitchell are dispatched to the scene with orders to establish contact with the heist's ringleader, Dalton Russell, and ensure safe release of the hostages. Working alongside Emergency Services Unit (ESU) Captain John Darius, all are hopeful that the situation can be peacefully diffused and that control of the bank and release of those inside can be secured in short order. But Russell proves an unexpectedly canny opponent--clever, calm and totally in command--a puppet master with a meticulous plan to disorient and confuse not only the hostages, but also the authorities. But just what are the robbers after? Why is nothing working to alleviate the standoff? Detecetive Frazier becomes convinced that invisible strings are being pulled and secret negotiations are taking place while the powder keg situation grows more unstable by the moment.
For more about Inside Man and the Inside Man Blu-ray release, see the Inside Man Blu-ray Review
Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director: Spike Lee
» See full cast & crew
Inside Man Blu-ray Review
A thriller not to be missed, Spike Lee and Denzel Washington's strongest collaboration together boasts prodigious audio and video quality.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, May 26, 2009
Spike Lee is widely considered the most talented and relevant African American director, but many of his films lack focus. More than ten years lapsed between two of his most cohesive movies, Clockers and Inside Man. Clockers was dropped in Lee's lap by Martin Scorsese, who was too busy with Casino at the time, and Inside Man was passed up by Ron Howard, who instead opted to direct Cinderella Man. Perhaps all of Lee's films should come to him already in development by other filmmakers. In contrast to titles Lee develops from the beginning, both Clockers and Inside Man are relatively free of his overt statements on race relations, allowing him to focus on the crime/drama elements of each movie and to capture the people and places of New York as only Spike Lee can.
With Inside Man II scheduled to hit theaters in 2010, there should not be another 10-year lapse before the next quality "Spike Lee Joint", as he calls his films. The sequel features the same impressive lineup as its predecessor, with Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier and Clive Owen as Dalton Russell. Often, studios wait to release a Blu-ray title until just before the sequel hits the theater. But Universal, for whatever reason, is making Inside Man available on Blu-ray this year rather than wait until next. And with good reason. It has the best production values of all of Lee's films, making it the perfect candidate for 1080p and high resolution sound. The audio and video are stellar, the action is good and all the actors do a good job.
Inside Man starts off with intriguing narration by Russell: "My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the who. The where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The what is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the when. As for the why: beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple... because I can. Which leaves us only with the how; and therein, as the bard would tell us, lies the rub." This soliloquy is followed by a well-executed and impeccably filmed bank heist in downtown Manhattan. Adding a great deal to the production is the cinematography by Matthew Libatique, who also directed photography in Iron Man), and music by Terence Blanchard, who composed scores for many previous Spike Lee movies. Owners of the new Blu-ray benefit in a major way from the upgrade in picture and sound quality.
An astute beat officer notices something wrong at the bank and the NYPD is quickly called in. The officers' personalities and dialog--showcasing Washington's best performance of the past decade--make for a lot of fun as the scenes strobe back and forth between the grave hostage situation evolving in the bank and the police presence outside. Frazier, his boss--Captain John Darius (Willem Dafoe)--and colleague Detective Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) all share moments of light banter as well as heavier exchanges. The bank robbers show an international, politically motivated agenda, forcing the cops to jump through hoops, but will the cards played by the robbers give away their hand or is it just a stunt to confound the NYPD? Spike Lee always had a knack for dialog and language. As some of the hostages are freed and interviewed by the officers, Lee's gift for colorful exchanges pays off big time. Not only is the entertainment value of the film ratcheted up and made more multidimensional by these interactions and the dialog, but the characters of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who were held in the bank show a slice of the Big Apple that tastes really sweet.
Frazier is an ambitious detective, gunning for a promotion, and he knows that his advancement is riding on the investigation. As meticulous as he is in following leads and interviewing the freed hostages, he cannot make any sense of the case. The bank heist seems to involve no victims, no robbers and no stolen money or goods--at least not that Frazier has been able to find. But then he stumbles on the key to the entire case. The bank's safe deposit box, #392, has never appeared on any records since the bank's founding in 1948. No sooner does Frazier obtain a search warrant to open it then he is confronted by Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), a lawyer for a wealthy, high-society client, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), who just so happens to be the founding owner of the bank. White tries to get Frazier to drop the investigation by guaranteeing his promotion, but when tested, Frazier displays more ethics than ambition. The film shifts into an exploration of good and evil. Russell's bank heist may not have been the crime it first appeared, while Case's lavish lifestyle and penthouse apartment may be at the expense of innocent victims. But will Russell escape his crime? And after a lifetime of luxury is to too late for Case to pay for his? With sparing use of nonlinear plot devices, Inside Man is a twisting, turning, entertaining thriller that lets up a bit after the heist, but stays interesting right up until the end.
Inside Man Blu-ray, Video Quality
The only thing holding back the video quality is the handheld camera that adds a hint of blurriness to many of the shots. True to form, Spike Lee usually has the camera moving, even when his subjects are still. He uses many cameras, lenses, angles, complex shots and postproduction effects--and edits the footage for a tremendous variety of visuals that always seem fresh and interesting. It's one of the hallmarks of his films that I've always appreciated. As for the transfer to 1080p, it is excellent. Blacks are inky and deep, although the contrast in the greys is not as refined as reference-level quality. The color vibrancy and definition are phenomenal. While characters' faces and fabrics are rendered with tremendous presence, my favorite subject is the city of New York itself. Watch the outdoor shots of the courthouse and the various views of city landmarks and skylines. Spike Lee has an affinity for the city that only a select few directors achieved before him--directors like Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen-- and has feel for citiscapes puts him in rarified territory. But whether the camera shows shots of people or a piece of Manhattan, the composition is always spot-on, with good detail and lifelike skin tones.
Inside Man Blu-ray, Audio Quality
When you can hear individual stubble from Denzel Washington's chin rubbing against his collar as he slowly shakes his head, there is no denying you are hearing not just an excellent recording but lifelike audio. Voices, instruments, gunfire, vehicles--all is rendered with a superior dedication to sound quality. It's a reference audio track all the way in DTS-HD Master Audio. Crank the opening and closing credits featuring an awesome remix of "Chaiyya Chaiyya" from the Bollywood movie Dil Se. Spike Lee's music guru, jazzman/trumpet player Terence Blanchard, added an orchestral highlight as well as scratching by DJ Premier to enhance the song written by A.R. Rahman, Gulzar, Panjabi MC and performed by Sukhwinder Singh, Sapna Awasthi and Panjabi MC. Excellent use of the LFE channel is on display, maybe a touch boomier than it needs to be, but it's still taught and refined enough. For dialogue, the clarity cuts like a razor. Highs are bright and extended, carrying just enough bite. Midrange and midbass are linear and fleshed out in contrast to many digital audio soundtracks that have sucked-out mids. In short, it's perfect.
Watch the scene where the police first arrive at the bank. It's a cacophony of squealing tires, screaming sirens, bellowing officers, gathering crowds. Nowhere do these sounds become muddied or congested. Each voice, each engine, each tire is vividly rendered, with good use of surrounds. Denzel's voice isn't just recognizable. It has presence, with all the overtones as if he was in the room. Owen disguises his voice with just a touch of a Brooklyn accent, and his timbre is intriguing. Foster has just a hint of lilt to her voice and, like the others, she appears to be in the room. The aural illusion is that strong. Imaging is excellent, and even the music is mastered aggressively in surround. Rarely do we get a 5.1 track that makes such good use of the rear channels and subwoofer. I attribute the dedication to excellent audio engineering, as well as the fine compositions, to Blanchard who I had the good fortune to see leading a quartet at One Step Down, a small jazz club on the outskirts of Georgetown, just as his career started to take off with Lee.
The audio content is of reference quality.
Inside Man Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
I enjoyed all the bonus content on Inside Man. There isn't much of it, but when it comes to supplementary material, quality trumps quantity any day. Unfortunately, A/V quality need not apply, as all the featurettes are in NTSC.
Commentary with director Spike Lee-- As often as Lee has frustrated me in his career, it was worth it to hear his thoughtful commentary on what I consider to be his most cohesive production. From anecdotes to technical details on the set, Lee really comes through here. Hopefully the sequel due out next year will be this good.
The Making of Inside Man--Further production anecdotes and technical details are described in this documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew.
Number 4--Every director has his "muse" or favorite actor that makes for the best collaborations. Christopher Nolan has Christian Bale. Martin Scorsese has Robert De Niro (or unfortunately Leonardo DiCaprio in recent years)...and Spike Lee has Denzel Washington. I have seen all their films together, which range from the whimsical ode to jazz, Mo' Better Blues to the disastrous Malcolm X. In this excellent series of interview clips, the director and actor discuss their creative collaborations from the past up to Inside Man.
Rounding out the bonus material is more than 20 minutes of deleted scenes--pretty much all of which deserves to be left on the cutting room floor.
Inside Man Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It has been frustrating to remain Lee's fan over the years. His originality, talent and vision were evident early in his career, most notably in Do the Right Thing, which is itself scheduled for Blu-ray release on June 30. Not only are some of his scenes of questionable merit, often glorifying violence, vulgarity or playing on racial stereotypes, but some of his words and actions separate from his films also have let down his fans. Many of his projects were so insular that they devolved into a series of inside jokes and production missteps, such as She's Gotta Have It and Malcolm X--a huge disappointment about one of the most important figures of the civil rights movement. But with Inside Man, my faith as a Spike Lee fan is restored. He executes the most focused film of his career to perfection, inspiring Denzel to one of his best performances as well. But put aside for a moment the intriguing narrative and impressive acting of the film. The defined picture and DTS-HD MA track make this a no-brainer to add to your Blu-ray collection.
Inside Man: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with Inside Man (2 bundles)
Inside Man Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Inside Man Audio Issue Corrected - May 26, 2009
As we reported last week, Universal Studios Home Entertainment recently identified an audio issue on the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Inside Man'. The studio took immediate steps to resolve the issue. In order to ensure the highest quality outcome, the formal ...
• Inside Man Blu-ray Delayed One Week - May 20, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that it has pushed back one week the release of 'Inside Man', initially slated for May 26, after an audio glitch was detected. The street date for this Blu-ray title is now June 2. All of the audio and video specifications ...
• Seabiscuit and Inside Man Play Catch-up Too - March 20, 2009
Following yesterday's announcement, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring 'Seabiscuit' and 'Inside Man' to Blu-ray. These titles, which will be presented in 1080p VC-1 accompanied by 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, will join ...
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Inside Man Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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