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Spike Lee's <i>Inside Man</i> Brings New Meaning to 'Bank Heist'


A bank robbery and hostage situation in New York turns out to be more than it first seems to be in a tense new drama from director Spike Lee co-starring Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen. Alan Silverman has a look at Inside Man.

Inside the bank in lower Manhattan, the masked bandit and his well-armed team carry out their takeover plan with military precision. Their threat: to kill each of the 50 hostages if the robbers' demands are not met. Outside the bank, New York City police detective Keith Frazier is trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff:

Oscar-winner Denzel Washington stars as the detective on the hot seat. He's played cops before and Washington says his challenge was to connect with Frazier's New York attitude.

"I did most of my research listening to my driver who was from Brooklyn," Washington explains. " It's just a feeling ... a vibe ... that living in California I just don't get."

Washington says many key scenes of Inside Man come from improvisation sessions with the other actors: something he has come to expect and look forward to when working with director Spike Lee.

"Really, I first started improvising with Spike some 17 years ago on Mo' Better Blues," he explains. "That was the first time I can remember thinking 'Okay, we'll just fool around in order to set the scenario and see what happens.' It kind of started with Spike many moons ago."

"A lot of my directing we do in the rehearsal process," adds Spike Lee. "We don't want to start discussing the character motivation and stuff like that on the set, so we do a lot of that stuff beforehand in rehearsal."

Lee says he and Washington have worked together enough to share a certain 'shorthand' and respect for each other's choices.

"Denzel is a wonderful actor. He's one of the greatest actors ever... and definitely (one of the greatest) working today," he says, "so I'm not going to be interrupting him all the time to say 'Denzel, do this or this.' Also, this is the fourth time we've worked together, so we're very comfortable working with each other."

Jodie Foster, another Oscar-winner, co-stars as a mysterious character who has been hired to ensure certain documents locked in the bank vault don't become public.

"I like the fact that in this world of macho guys who are very powerful and say things like 'I'm going to shove that up your head,' that there is this kind of breezy, very feminine presence who has all the power that they do, but doesn't raise her voice, always smiles (and) says 'please' and 'thank you' and has time for fake tans and high heels," Foster says. "It's such a contrast to this man's world ... and yet she has inhabited this man's world without necessarily taking it on herself."

English actor Clive Owen completes this tense triangle as the mastermind, who, it turns out, is seeking more than just money.

"The movie starts, the guys take the bank over and you think this is territory we know ... the heist movie scenario," he explains. "Then it starts to change and I think he's not the usual guy who takes over a bank in that way. He's doing it for his own, very particular reasons; and as the thing unravels and develops you realize that it's a very unusual heist and he has planned a very clever situation here. That was the attraction to doing it. It was a very smart script."

I nside Man is the first produced script by screenwriter Russell Gewirtz. The cast also features Willem Dafoe as a SWAT team commander who wants to end the standoff by any means possible; and Christopher Plummer is the tycoon whose secret documents set the plot in motion. Inside Man was shot on location in the New York financial district, much of it near 'Ground Zero,' where the World Trade Center towers once stood.