“Inside Man” was released in 2006 and would later become the highest grossing film for the director Spike Lee. The film is a crime-drama, located primarily in a bank in New York City run by multi billionaire Arthur Case. Although the film is a thriller and contains bits of action and suspense, the movie focuses heavily on the difference between good and evil.
The movie begins with a shot in medias res of Clive Owen’s character Dalton Russell explaining the difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison while he moves around a small room which is later disclosed to be part of the maintenance room of the bank blocked off by a fake wall. Russell then explains that he has recently robbed a bank for “obvious financial reasons” and just simply because he can. How he does it is then shown throughout the film, leading up to the conclusion of the film and a second showing of the opening scene, this time possessing a different connation.
The significance of the bank is shown to be in the contents of the unregistered safety deposit box located in the vault. The box contains jewels and potentially damaging content to Arthur Case which proves his involvement with the Nazis during the Holocaust in order to gain the financial status he now has. This prompts him to hire Ms. White (Jodie Foster), a woman who specializes in “dealing with these kinds of things” to somehow extract or eliminate the box.
In the meantime Denzel Washington’s character Detective Keith Frazier leads the police force surrounding the bank and essentially becomes the viewer’s alignment unit for much of the film which focuses primarily on his character throughout the picture. The film goes on to explain Arthur Case’s involvement with the Nazis in the Holocaust, sparking Ms. White’s necessity to use her connections within the government, and overall stressing Lee’s main point on government corruption and greed.
Spike Lee uses a switch between subjective and objective identification by forming recognition of the main characters, Detective Frazier, Ms. White, and Dalton Russell in order to align the spectator with the characters’ moral values and create an allegiance towards them, highlighting the film’s focus on how the title “Inside Man” represents not only Russell, but the government corruption shown by Ms. White and the cruel reality that Arthur Case reached his position of wealth by being an “inside man” for the Nazis, essentially giving up the soul inside of him.
Throughout the film the spectator sees both a subjective and objective view of the characters. The film opens with an almost autobiographical approach from Russell who is literally speaking to the audience as if he could see them. This changes drastically though when the following scenes show high angle shots choppily following the robbers as they board the painting van reading, “we never leave until the job is finished” en route to the bank. The masks and clothing of the robbers serve to make recognition impossible and keep the viewer distanced from Russell’s accomplices.
Until the remainder of the movie the robbers all refer to themselves with variations of the name Steve, making recognition even more difficult, and focusing the attention primarily on Russell rather than the other members of the group. This focus is also accomplished with the lack of lighting and face shots of the other robbers and the fact that the opening scene features Russell in three point lighting without a background, immediately introducing him to the viewer as a main character.
Although Russell is seen multiple times in the film, aside from the opening scene and the same scene shown again prior to his escape, his actual opinions are seen more through his actions than through spoken thoughts, mainly shown during his interaction with Ms. White while he discloses the information about Case’s past. But the lack of interactions is made up for with the use of close shots on his face and the differing of his voice from the others, making him recognizable and aligning him with full accountability for the entire robbery.
As the film unfolds, the audience learns that although there were financial morals fueling the master plan, there was also the desire to bring justice upon a man that had betrayed and cheated his way to the top, thus giving the audience a sense of righteousness in what Russell was doing. Russell had become not only the man literally inside the bank, but inside the lies of Case with the means to expose them.
This alignment serves to form a sort of paradoxical allegiance in which although the audience understands he is the leader of a criminal group, he is also uncovering the secrets of an evil man and thus somewhat proving his innocence. This same allegiance causes the audience to enjoy the conclusion, both out of respect for the intelligence of the plan and because of his ability to escape with the documents and potentially to uncover the awful past of Arthur Case.
Although Ms. White’s thoughts are never truly expressed in the film, she plays a huge role in the formation of the plot. Recognition of Ms. White comes easily for the fact that she is a woman, and she is of power. An important aspect of her appearance is her clothing, being that in every shot she is shown wearing formal clothing and more importantly; heels. The clothing and heels serve to portray her as an intimidating woman who presents herself with confidence living in a corrupt world, a role which would most times be played by a male.
Her confidence and intimidating demeanor are further enhanced when the spectator first aligns her with a profession of somewhat dishonesty and corruption based on the way she asks her client about “business” with his uncle and what he’ll be doing in the city. This shady view aligns the spectator with a negative attitude towards White, and because of her hiring from Case, the viewer once again sees that Case uses his “inside” connections to watch his own interests. White later meets with Case and sets out to acquire access into the bank where she can attempt negotiations with Russell for the retrieval of the documents.
In order to do so she uses her political influence to sway the mayor into bribing Frazier with a promotion in order to gain access into the bank. This once again aligns the audience to White as someone in a corrupt position of power and creates sympathy for Frazier who desires to remain an honest detective but is essentially being forced to break protocol, creating further allegiance towards Frazier and although Case is not directly shown in this scene, resentment towards him is enhanced when the audience aligns Frazier’s misfortune to Case’s necessity to conceal the truth.
Through the entire film White is portrayed in an entirely objective view, in which she merely seems to be doing what she calls business, and although her actions are dishonest and corrupt, the audience does not ever truly develop a strong negative or positive allegiance towards her since is merely carrying out the work she was hired to do and shows little opinion of the matter. Her thoughts on the situation are not disclosed aside from her conversation with Mr. Blank near the conclusion of the film when her final statement to Blank is that in her attempt to help Bin Laden’s nephew acquire an American esidence she’d be listing him as a reference. White represents the government corruption Lee wished to portray through the film, and by presenting her in an objective and acentral fashion he successfully keeps the viewer from seeing White as only one person, and rather a representation of the whole government. Although White is not a man, she is just as much an “inside man” as the other characters, and she uses her inside connections to get what she needs. Detective Keith Frazier is the alignment unit for the film serving as the midpoint for the entire story, and has the most subjective portrayal of his thoughts of any of the characters.
Almost every scene with Frazier mainly focuses on his face and his actions. The viewer quickly gets recognition of his persona through his loud and confident tone and the opening scene that shows him explaining how he denied a drug dealer freedom after being offered a bribe, aligning the viewer to a righteous view of Frazier and creating an allegiance to him because of his positive morals. Frazier is the least opaque character in the film, with a bursting personality unlike the quiet and controlled Russell and the professional, pristine White.
He walks onto the scene and immediately takes control from the Captain while wearing his nice suit and tie and walking with pride. Every action he makes is made with confidence and purpose. He describes what he thinks all the characters are thinking throughout the movie. The first time he takes control he walks out of the control room and waits for Grossman to find him and apologize, which works just as he has told his partner it would, showing Frazier’s intelligence and ability to read people. It is also one of the first times he explains his thoughts to his partner.
This strategy of explaining his opinions to his partner is an indirect way of providing a subjective view of Frazier and serves to create a more central feel in the film. Frazier’s one failure is when he bluffs Russell in order to enter the bank so that he could attempt unmasking Russell and evaluate his response. Upon surviving Russell’s retaliation, he believes he has won the battle, believing that he not killing him meant they would not kill any hostages. He then witnesses a hostage executed on the camera and his whole world turns downside up.
The shot following this shows Frazier moving through the chaos of the crime scene appearing to be completely still but somehow walking. The surrounding area is blurred and moves rapidly, symbolizing his thoughts as a result of the hostage execution. This creates a central shot attempting to reel in the viewer to experience the chaos and craziness of the situation as Frazier does. Frazier then loses control of the situation and the police plan a tactical intrusion into the bank. The conclusion of the movie illuminates the untruthful truth to Detective Frazier.
As the movie progresses there are random clips from interviews that Frazier and his partner give after the robbery. After concluding his interviews he has not found the “perp” with the foreign accent and that nothing had been stolen, but when he addresses this with the Chief Inspector he is told to bury it. He realizes then that there is more secretive affairs than he had realized, and after looking into the issue further he notices the missing safety deposit box and finds the ring, ultimately leading to his discovery of Case and his blackmail of White for strongarming him.
And although he uses the same methods to get what he wants in the end, throughout the movie he tries to stay clean, at first refusing the offer from the mayor to become a detective first grade, and eventually had to take it anyway. Frazier represents the man that was at first on the outside and made his way to the “inside”, the man of opposing values than the corrupt Case and White. Although “Inside Man” is a story of one man hiding inside a cell, it is also the story of Case keeping his dark past inside of him.
He tries to push away the past by using White, the “inside” woman to cover his tracks, but Frazier learns the truth and enters the inside world where his opposing morals defeat White and Case with the help of information from Russell. “Inside Man” focuses on identification of the characters, assimilating their attributes into the acentral imagination of the viewer who gives allegiance to Frazier as he uncovers the truth, confirming Russell that the “fact is, all lies, all evil deeds, they stink. You can cover them up for a while but they won’t go away. ” Case sold his soul to the devil, and failed to realize he could never buy it back.