Saturday, March 25, 2006

"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.


Blogger James Crawford said...

Singer, I've been with you since day one of the Sin City-deserves-more-credit-than-it-gets bandwagon, but I get off when it comes to Clive Owen and his performance. Maybe he's great in Spike Lee's new joint (I don't know, I'm going to try and catch it on Monday), and yes, he's some kind of machismatic manly man-flesh, but his positively somnambulant performance in Sin City merits nothing but ridicule. Give me Rourke, with his uncanny ability to so fully inhabit a character whose hulking body and feral instincts belies his gentle temperament; a guy who's self-awareness butts up against the limits of his ability to fully verbalize it. And all this, apropos your comment about hooded Owen in Inside Man, done under the oppressive weight of all that prosthetic makeup. His was among my top five favourite performances of the past year. If you disagree, I will fight you.

6:05 PM  
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11:09 PM  
Blogger Matt Singer said...

Your comparison of Rourke in Sin City and Owen in Inside Man doesn't jive. Rourke in prosthetics could still use his eyes, his face. He didn't look like Mickey Rourke, but he could still use his face as an instrument of expression. Owen doesn't get to use his eyes or much else on his face. In retrospect, he seems a much better choice for V in V For Vendetta, where Hugo Weaving's performance in the role seems a little off lifeless, and his voice did not fill the gaps in the emotions lost specifically because we can't see his eyes and his mouth doesn't move. Owen, on the other hand, works magic with his voice alone in Inside Man.

Call it a matter of opinion, I guess, since you've offered no reason why Clive Owen is bad in Sin City other than the fact that you don't like him. His narration of his section of the film blows my mind every time I watch it. Where you see somnambulance I see a performance that grounds a very silly movie in a grimy, bloody, and somewhat deranged sense of reality. Plus the dude's hella cool; they should bottle the man's flop sweat and sell it as pure, concentrated cool.

And don't get me wrong: I thought Rourke was great in Sin City. Just not Clive Owen great.

10:37 PM  
Blogger James Crawford said...

Uhhhhh....except that somnambulance is a reason for my dislike. His delivery is just ineffably boring, world-weary in a way is less a function of being bored with the world than an actor who doesn't get the idiom in which he's performing (or just simply doesn't care). Rourke seems invested in his character; Owen doesn't give a damn.

11:22 PM  

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