"This ain't no Inside Man review!"
Like Roger Ebert, I observed that the plot of Inside Man makes very little sense. Unlike Roger, I simply don't care that it doesn't.
It doesn't matter because of the strength of Spike Lee's string-pulled-at-both-ends tension, the performance of a uniformly superb ensemble, and most importantly the abundance of small touches that enrich the admittedly implausible narrative. If Inside Man had been the typical, flavorless, 90 minute version of a Hollywood (this-ain't-no) bank robbery, it would not be worth recommending. But Inside Man, which runs a robust 130 minutes, gets to luxuriate in the world it creates: to show in fascinating, rigorous detail how the police contain a hostage situation (the way the plainclothes detectives receive heavily armed cover every single time they walk past the bank's entrance); to comment hilariously and pointedly, on the state of video game culture amongst young children; to give racial relations their place in the film; to present a cynical but (I'd suspect) not inaccurate view of New York politics. The film feels long but it feels appropriately long: Inside Man, as few hostage movies do, permits us to feel the anguish and anxiety of a prolonged police action and the slow choreographed dance between cop and perp.
Seemingly nobody on the planet but me noticed how good Clive Owen was in Sin City, where, as far as I'm concerned, he officially inherited the mantle of reluctant-but-unstoppable masculinity from Robert Mitchum (Everyone else was blinded by the showiness of his inferior co-star Mickey Rourke). Working in a very similar mode of persistent simmering, Owen makes a great sort of bankrobber we hate to love. That he performs most of the film from beneath a hood, mask, and sunglasses, is all the more impressive.
Name-checking Dog Day Afternoon, as Inside Man does in one particularly strong sequence, is sort of required in this postmodern world, but the fact is Inside Man earns the reference: it is the best film of the kind since Lumet's.