Inside Man, Spike Lee's 2006 heist thriller, starts its very first frame, the swirling Universal Studios logo, with Sapna Awasthi's piercing voice singing those first lines of Chaiyya Chaiyya, A.R. Rahman's fantastic composition penned Sufi-style by Gulzar for Mani Ratnam's Dil Se.. (1998). That song was at that time, and I still think is even today, one of the best picturised (Santosh Sivan) and choreographed (Farah Khan) songs of Hindi cinema - Shah Rukh and Malaika Arora on a moving mountain train top dancing with carefree abandon, no green screen CGI, is pure cinematic magic. The entire song plays over the opening credits of Inside Man and a remixed version over the closing credits. The song itself has nothing to do with the movie, and was solely there because director Spike Lee, who was teaching film school in New York at the time, had been given a copy of it by one of his students and loved it, and decided he was going to use it in one of his movies some day.
The movie, now available on Netflix, begins with a close-up monologue by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) speaking from a tiny prison-like cell, succinctly laying out the who, where, what, when and why of the bank robbery, and ending with "which leaves us only with the how, and therein as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub". Once the robbery is in motion, with all the bank employees and customers taken hostage, the case is turned over to NYPD hostage negotiator Detective Frazier (Denzel Washington) along with his partner Mitchell (Chiwitel Ejiofor), working in conjunction with Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe). The bank being robbed belongs to rich old world banker Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer, whom I talked about a couple of days ago in my review of Knives Out (2019), reviewed here). He brings in a power broker, Madeleine White (Jodie Foster) to prevent a secret from getting out. It's a treasure trove of acting riches with, between the 6 of them, enough Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta awards and nominations to fill an entire closet - Owen for Closer (2004), Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave (2013), Dafoe for Platoon (1986) and The English Patient (1996), Plummer, forever linked of course to The Sound of Music (1965), for Beginners (2010) at age 82 then the oldest ever winner, and Foster for Taxi Driver (1976), at then age 14 the youngest nominee, and then winning for The Accused (1989) and The Silence of the Lambs (1992).
Which brings me finally to my man Denzel. I am an unabashed fan and can write pages about him alone. His style, his dialogues and overall craft are a pleasure to behold. From "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us" in Malcolm X (1992) to "King Kong ain't got shit on me" in Training Day (2001) to his signature phrase, "my man", Denzel now adds the double entendre "Big Willie and the twins" in Inside Man. When I last checked, I had seen about 30, yes 30, of his movies over the last 30 years! Starting with Mississippi Masala (1991) to Philadelphia (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), The Bone Collector (1999), Out of Time (2003), Man on Fire (2004), Deja Vu (2006), American Gangster (2007), The Equalizer (2014) to Fences (2016) and so many more, Denzel has provided us with smart entertainment over the decades, a testament to the fact that great acting doesn't have to be stiff and boring and self-important.
Inside Man is a quintessentially New York City movie with its diversity and accents on full display - one sequence involving an Albanian woman referring to the former President of Albania Enver Hoxha, is laugh out loud funny . There are racial and class undercurrents - it's a Spike Lee movie, or joint, after all - but tinged with sharp wit and humor. Note the exchange that Denzel has with a Sikh whose turban has been snatched from him when he is mistaken for a Muslim (it's post-9/11 NYC) and who is complaining about his civil rights being violated and always being picked up for "random selection" at airport security. Denzel repartees with "I bet you can get a cab though", highlighting in one brief sentence the black experience.
I have seen this movie multiple times over the years on my Blu-Ray DVD copy of it before streaming became a thing, and I have enjoyed it every time. For me, Inside Man is "paanv ke neechey jannat hogi".
July 4, 2020