'Inside Man' gives a good ride

Director Spike Lee's latest film endeavor, "Inside Man," is a convoluted thriller/heist flick that is driven more by the performances of the actors than the story line. In fact, trying to figure out the plot was a big waste of time and it wasn't until I realized this and just let things flow from the screen that I began to enjoy this film.

Four men dressed as painters take over a busy bank in midtown Manhattan in what initially appears as a robbery attempt. The "thieves" never make their motives entirely known to the detectives assigned to the case and every time it appears that demands will be met about the exasperating hostage situation, or at least approached, things change. The detectives' frustration at the motives of the crooks and the large, tense crowd that forms outside the bank is, early on, what fuels the interest in this thriller and keeps the audience in their seats.

The tension builds between the police ? Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejiofor ? and the crooks, led by the Clive Owen character who sets up the best scene in the film. Jodie Foster is introduced as Madeline White who ostensibly has some sort of position with the city of New York but is more likely an independent "power broker." Keeping in line with the somewhat murky character assignments, her role in this story is never fully explained. Foster and Washington are seated in a conference room where they playfully attempt to make some sort of deal to approach the robbers and resolve the hostage situation. They banter and chide one another. Foster crosses and uncrosses her long, silky legs and suddenly sexual tension suffuses the real tension in this film, the fate of the hostages who are being strangely dressed and undressed and humiliated for reasons unknown.

And speaking of murky character assignments, Christopher Plummer's role in this odd story is another twist. He is somehow implicated in World War II shenanigans but he can't be. He isn't old enough, or is he? And what is in that safety deposit box of his anyway?

The eventual plot resolution that explains all of this is reasonably satisfying and one doesn't leave the theater in a state of complete frustration but there are a few loose ends that can be left up to speculation and I found that rather fitting, all things considered.

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