June 3, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Inside Man

Along with my very late blooming love for the cinema and my gravitation towards genre films, there are some film makers whose films I have never seen. One of those film makers is Spike Lee. When I saw Inside Man back in 2006 on the big screen I was finally able to say that I had seen a Spike Lee film. To this date, it remains the only one I have seen. I know, I know, that means there are a lot of quality movies that I have yet to see, a fact I hope to one day rectify. In any case, the heist film has arrived on Blu-ray and marks the first time I have seen the film since its big screen bow.

Inside Man begins like many heist films that have come before it. The robbers, dressed in matching painter outfits enter the bank and led by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), neutralize the cameras, and go about dealing with whimpering hostages, jumping over the counters, along with plenty of barked orders. The immediately go about establishing the seriousness of the situation.

Meanwhile, the police learn of what is going on down the bank and send hostage negotiator Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and his partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are sent to work the scene. They arrive and immediately go about securing the scene.

What follows is a carefully constructed cat and mouse game between Dalton and Frazier. This game they play combined with the way they go about their business goes a long way toward revealing the intelligence with which the screenplay was written. Both of these characters know how the game is played and they know exactly what they need to do in order to get to their desired ends.

Where the story loses a little bit of its hold is with the introduction of Madeleine White (Jodie Foster). She is some sort of high priced "fixer" brought in by the bank's chairman of the board, played by Christopher Plummer, to insure the safety of a particular safety deposit box. Frankly, this part of the story has a bearing on the big picture, but I did not really care. It felt concocted to give Foster something to do. The funny thing is, while she feels inconsequential, she is so dramatic in doing it.

What is so fascinating about Inside Man is that for as intelligent as the script is, it does not pay off very well. Once the climax arrived, I must admit to feeling a little let down. For all of the tension that is built up over the two-hour movie, I could not muster up enough reason to care. Fortunately, what came before is so entertaining it is still a movie worth watching.

The performances are first rate. Denzel Washington is playing a role he could do in his sleep with both hands tied behind his back. He brings an intensity with a touch of moral ambiguity, just to keep you guessing. Meanwhile, Clive Owen is always in control, always knows how to control the situation. He is calm, cool, and collected at every moment. These two own the film. Where lesser actors could have made this a chore, these two keep you glued to the screen every moment.

This is, by far, Spike Lee's most mainstream film, further evidenced by its box office take ($88 million). Still, while this targeted the mainstream audience, it still has plenty of style. Besides what Washington and Owen bring to the table, Lee brings a great visual style that helps liven up the feature. There are crane and dolly shots galore helping make this your atypical blockbuster, putting a stamp on it. On top of that, there are a number of scenes involving life in New York and race relations that have Spike's fingerprints all over them. He brings a lot of flavor to the story, making the movie better in the end.

Audio/Video. The image retains its original 2.35:1 ratio of the theatrical presentation (have any Blu-rays presented a modified ratio?). The color palette looks as I remember from the theater, not terribly bright, but not washed out either. There is a very realistic feel to the way it looks. The high definition format brings a lot of detail to the frame, all helping bring life to the bank set and the streets of NYC immediately around the building.

The audio, in English DTS-HD 5.1 sounds excellent as well. Standing out in the sound mix is the score by Terence Blanchard, his music is very good with strong themes, heroic for the police and ominous for the robbers. There is also nice ambient effects and things you would not normally pay attention to, but the footsteps of people walking through the bank are also quite good.

It should be noted that an audio problem was found with the disk and the release was subsequently pushed back a week so that Paramount could press corrected disks. The problem is that somewhere in chapter 15 of the film, the right surround channel would go silent. It was as if no audio was being sent to it. The new disk corrects the issue and sounds excellent.

The problem remains that some of the faulty disks may have gotten through and may be on store shelves. Here is how to get the right one: you cannot tell by the UPC code as it remains the same, look at the back of the case, the credit box of the correct release is red (the faulty release is black), also at the top where it says "Perfect Picture and Purest Digital Sound Available" is printed in yellow (the original is blue).

Extras. The release has a few decent extras on it. The only Blu-ray exclusive is access to BD Live and the ability to bookmark scenes while viewing.
  • Commentary. This full length track features Spike Lee commenting on all aspects of the film from shooting to casting, to other minor details. It is an entertaining track and Spike is clearly having a good time with it.
  • Deleted Scenes. More than 20 minutes of cut scenes are included, a lot of which is interrogation footage of Denzel and Ejiofor talking to he hostages.
  • The Making of Inside Man. This features a lot of interview footage blended with behind the scenes footage, including from an early table read with the cast.
  • Number 4. This is a conversation between Spike Lee and Denzel Washington talking about the four films they have collaborated on.

Bottomline. This is a solid thriller that could have been great with another couple passes through the screenplay. The performances and Spike Lee's visual sense carry this film and make the two hours just fly by. Definitely worth the time, and the Blu-ray release looks downright snazzy.



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