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Film / Inside Man

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"My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple... because I can. Which leaves us only with the How; and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub."

Inside Man is a 2006 American Heist Film thriller directed by Spike Lee about a Bank Robbery. What seems like a normal hostage-taking robbers versus police siege scenario soon becomes complicated by the unexpected involvement of the bank's founder.

The main "players":

  • Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), the bank robber with a plan
  • Det. Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), the "normal guy" police negotiator with some prior issues
  • Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), the bank's founder and board chairman who has something else on his mind
  • Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), a shady figure who is contracted by Case to bring a discreet end to the situation

This film provides examples of:

  • Absence of Evidence: One of the things that eventually brings Case down is the detectives looking over the vault's manifest and finding out that the only safety deposit box the robbers broke into is nowhere to be found in the manifest... literally, even going back to the time the bank first opened seventy years ago. Because seventy years ago, while the bank was being built, Arthur Case placed his Nazi loot inside of the box and kept it all off the books.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Russell laughs when Fraizer half-jokingly warns him that he'll end up in a prison shower and sucking something that is not a piña colada.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Invoked by Case. He claims that he collaborated with the Nazis for money during WWII because he "was young and ambitious".
  • Asshole Victim: Dalton narrates near the end of the film, "I'm no martyr. I did [rob the bank] for the money." But he specifically targeted the bank's owner rather than any of its customers, because the owner was a Nazi collaborator; and Dalton avoided killing or even seriously injuring anyone else.
  • Bank Robbery: Not your typical bank robbery though.
  • Big Applesauce: The setting of New York is important, not just because of Wall Street, but mostly since itís just a few years after 9/11. The city was still very much on edge and concerns about profiling and civil liberties were also very prominent.
    • Spike Lee does a very good job of incorporating a lot of things unique to New York culture into the movie. A good example is when the police note that they might as well play the unidentified language out on the street since odds are someone will recognize it; itís reasonable to say that every common language in the world is spoken on a daily basis somewhere in the city.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Played with. The police are listening in to what the bank robbers are "saying" on the radio, but when they get help translating it, it transpires that they're hearing a recording of Enver Hoxha, the former Warsaw Pact dictator of Albania.
  • Boom, Headshot!: When the kid shows the main robber his videogame, he shoots a fictional character within it dead by shooting him in the head—multiple times even after the guy's already dead. And then puts and explodes a grenade in the dead guy's mouth so his head explodes even more.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Dalton delivers the Opening Monologue straight to the audience.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Late in the movie Frazier's partner advises him to go after his accusers "Michael Corleone style".
  • The Caper
  • Caper Rationalization: They're "robbing" the bank to expose the fact that Arthur Case received Jewish loot, and was possibly a financial supporter of Adolf Hitler during World War II. The actual robbery is secondary.
  • Cassandra Truth: "I'm going to walk out that door."
  • Celebrity Paradox: There are references made to Dog Day Afternoon in the movie, including a direct reference from Fraizer. Except there are two cast members from that movie who also appear in this one in similar roles. The first is Marcia Jean Kurtz as a hostage who refuses to disrobe in front of everyone else, though her earlier role showed more cleavage than any other character. In both roles, her character has the same common name ("Miriam"). Lionel Pina plays the cop who delivers pizza to the hostages, though his earlier role has him as a civilian pizza delivery driver.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Or rather, Chekhov's pen. Also, Chekov's Gum ó Russel offers Frazier a stick of gum during their face-to-face; when Arthur Case's secret safety deposit box is opened by the Police, he's left the pack inside as a way of saying "Look at this!"
  • Country Matters: Combined with Insult Backfire; after White forces the mayor to get her access to the crime scene, he calls her a "magnificent cunt", to which she just smiles and says, "Thank you."
  • Destroy the Security Camera: The bank robbers disable the security cameras inside the bank by firing lasers at them to overload the digital recording chips.
  • Diagonal Billing: See the page image for an interesting example.
  • Disguised Hostage Gambit: The thieves make the hostages wear the same uniform as them, but with the full knowledge of the police outside. This keeps the police from interfering at first. It also lets most of the robbers blend into the crowd of freed hostages and escape after the robbery is complete.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Quite an epic one. Russell is really hiding behind a false wall the robbers built, making him the literal "Inside Man." However, Case was sort of an inside man himself, appearing to be a charitable and goodhearted man after having sold his soul to the Nazis. And White is an inside woman for a living, working her way to the heart of delicate situations. So really, the only main character who isn't some kind of an "Inside Man" is Frazier, the overall good guy.
  • Embarrassing Ringtone: The thieves taking hostages in the bank demand that everyone turn over any cell phones. One executive (read rich white guy) claims he left his phone at home, but the thieves grab the phone of one of the guy's coworkers and dial his number. It rings and loudly plays Kanye West's "Gold Digger". Surprisingly enough for a few seconds the thieves seem like they're going to let the whole thing slide, perhaps out of sheer amusement at the incongruity of the ring tone... then the leader of the group drags the guy off into another room and beats the crap out of him.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: A chance comment another cop makes to Fraizer allows him to figure out how exactly the hostage takers were able to stay ten steps ahead of the police.
  • Evil Pays Better: Enough to send people you personally knew and paid you everything they owned on top of literally begging you for help to a concentration camp:
    Case: The Nazis... paid too well.
  • Exact Words: Russell says "I'm going to walk right out of the door [of the bank]" early in the film, which at that point seems to be nonsense/bluffing. Well, the hostages and the other robbers run out of the door, but Russell leaves the bank a week later, after hiding behind a false wall all that time. He indeed walks right out the door.
  • Expert Consultant: Police negotiators call in a Russian co-worker to translate a speech from the bank robbers, which they think is in Russian. Subverted when the language they hear on tape, however, turns out to be Albanian, so the Russian-American cop can't help them. A random man on the street, however, turns out to have an Albanian ex-wife, who's then called in to help; thus they discover it was a prerecorded speech of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Frazier is talking to other police officers about the impending ESU team raid on the bank, until he realizes the bank robbers have wiretapped them, and know that ESU is coming for them.
  • Facecam: Frazier, after the cops see a hostage being "shot". Right after Frazier said Russell wasn't a killer.
  • Fake Kill Scare: At some point during the hostage crisis in the bank the hostage takers, to prove that they're not to be messed with, execute one of their hooded captives in front of the single camera they left intact for non-verbal communication with the cops. Fraizer has a Heroic BSoD because of this, but after everything is over it's revealed that it was staged.
  • Family-Values Villain: The bank robber. Despite brutally beating a hostage, executing another one, and robbing the bank, he is concerned about the violent content in a video game a young hostage is playing and resolves to discuss it with the boy's father. Subverted in that the execution of the hostage was staged, and the only thing he actually stole was the contents of the safe deposit box of the bank's founder, which were ill-gotten gains from his days as a Nazi collaborator. The "villain" is a lot less villainous than he appears.
  • Fanservice Extra: The hostages are forced at one point to strip to their underwear before redressing into clothes similar to the ones worn by the robbers, giving several shots with young fit men and women in their undergarments.
  • Fingerprinting Air: Subverted. The police find many fingerprints, but quickly realize that all any of them prove is that the dozens of suspects were all at the bank that day.
  • Flipping the Bird: Frazier does this to Case when he's showing the ring he found in Case's safety deposit box.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During the heist, one of the "hostages" reveals he is an attorney who specializes in war reparations cases.
    • The fake decal on the robber's van reads "Perfectly Planned Painting: We NEVER leave until we get the job done!"
    • When the police envision a scenario where they enter the bank guns blazing and mow down the robbers, Russell's blood splatters across Case's safe-deposit box.
    • The kid's video game foreshadows both the concept of getting rich at all costs, no matter who suffers or dies as a result, (as exemplified by Arthur Case), and the fact that the robbers don't actually plan to hurt anyone.
  • Gambit Roulette: The robbers' scheme hinges on ensuring that no one dies while simultaneously keeping the cops thinking they're deadly dangerous. While the movie presents this as Xanatos Speed Chess, it falls apart when you consider that it relies on the cops not making any mistakes like accidentally shooting a hostage, or finding the bug before it was too late.
  • Hero Antagonist: Detective Frazier is a cop just trying to do his job: stop a robbery and apprehend the criminals. He has no way of knowing that the robbers are actually the good guys, trying to achieve a greater justice. This trope does not apply to White, and certainly not Case.
  • Hesitation Equals Dishonesty: Inverted. When White confronts Case, asking him if it was true that he collaborated with the Nazis in WWII, he hesitates for about four seconds...then smiles and says "Yes." Either he was a truly honest man, who was old and had nothing to lose, or he realized that hesitating that long before lying about it would make it obvious that he was lying, so he opted to tell the truth.
  • Hired Guns: Madeline White is the political-legal variant that will work for anyone, so long as they pay.
  • Hollywood Law: Frazier is ordered to drop the investigation into the bank robbery on the grounds that "nothing was taken" = "no crime was committed"... ignoring the fact that the hostage taking and associated actions could result in any number of charges. The implication is that political pressure is being applied to bury the whole thing, either because it's an embarrassment or because Arthur Case is leaning on people, but even so it's a stretch to imagine nobody would want to follow up on such a major incident, robbery or no robbery.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: Played with. Frazier, ESU Captain Darius, and the other officers discuss what might happen if they storm the bank, and we get to see a full-on action sequence that finishes with Russell getting gunned down in the safe deposit box room and leaving a blood splatter on Case's box.
  • Inside Job: Averted, despite the title. The ending reveals that none of the robbers were bank employees.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Not quite the simple Bank Robbery it seemed at first. Dalton sets up the holding of hostages to cover the real crime, stealing from the president of the bank.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Russell and his accomplices all get away with robbing the bank, taking, threatening and attacking hostages and stealing Case's diamonds. Though nobody would have much of a problem with the last one.
    • Case became rich during the Holocaust and escaped any consequences for sixty years. Unfortunately for him, one of the major objectives of the heist was to make damned sure that karma would fall on him like a ton of bricks.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste: "When there's blood on the streets, buy property". Arthur Case essentially uses the Nazi Holocaust as a way of making money
  • Lost in a Crowd: The robbers use many anonymizing tactics, including all of them using codenames that are variants of the name "Steve" and dressing up the hostages to look like the robbers. This eventually plays into their getaway plan, where no one can discern the former hostages from the robbers.
  • Mistaken Ethnicity: The bank robbers release a Sikh hostage, who from his coloring and turban is mistaken for an Arab by the police and bystanders outside, leading to a brief scare that the bank robbery might be connected to Islamic terrorism.
  • Murder Simulators: One of the bank robbers finds one of the hostages, a young black boy, sitting inside the bank vault playing his PSP. He borrows the game to try it for himself, and we see that it's a violent, racially-tinged GTA clone in which the player gets points for stealing cars, selling drugs, and killing people. When the robber asks what the point of the game is, the kid replies "like my man Fiddy says, get rich or die tryin'", comparing the robber to the game's Villain Protagonist and saying that he's scored a ton of points by knocking over a bank. Even the robber is shocked, feeling that the game is making the kid think that crime is cool, and he says he's gonna talk to the kid's father about the game he's playing. This foreshadows the fact that the robbers, while willing to beat people up to quell resistance, have no intention of killing anybody and in fact plan to rob the bank's president (a Nazi collaborator) rather than its customers.
  • Nazi Gold: The contents of Arthur Case's safe deposit box end up being this. The robbers leave behind a single ring with a message for Frazier to "follow the ring", and a few scenes later Frazier barges into a dinner White is having with a city official and telling her that she can either contact the Office of War Crimes Issues at the State Department and hand Case over to them or he will make public all of his findings about the investigation on the ring's origins and the both of them can become Nazi Hunter fodder.
  • No "Police" Option: The police are involved in the bank robbery and hostage taking almost from the beginning, but the Corrupt Corporate Executive cannot tell them about the secret safety deposit box he keeps in the bank. Instead he hires a shady but discreet 'fixer' who can use her political connections and plain bribery and extortion to make sure that the contents of the box never become public.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge:
    • Basically all of the police and detective characters have moments where they express less than enlightened views on race (e.g. confusing a Sikh hostage who the robbers release for a Muslim, and jumping to the conclusion of "Islamic terrorist"), but nonetheless they're still the good guys in this situation.
    • When they realize the bank robbers are talking in an unidentified Slavic language, Darius immediately jumps to the conclusion they are Russians, and refers to them as violent "savages" who will cause a bloodbath.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The female bank robber uses this.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The opening monologue of this movie is as follows: "My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple... because I can. Which leaves us only with the How; and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub." All of this doesn't really make sense yet at the start of the movie, without having seen any of it. But, five minutes before the ending of the movie, this entire monologue is said again by Russell Dalton. And by this time, it makes much more sense...
  • Opening Monologue: Covers the who, where, what, when, why, and sets up the how. By the end you realize that this could count as a subversion: it's more misleading than informative.
  • Out-Gambitted: White's good, but as is revealed at the end, Russell has outfoxed her by leaving the ring for Frazier.
  • Pac Man Fever: The film went the opposite extreme of this trope. A kid plays an ersatz Grand Theft Auto PSP game. When we see clips, the game's graphics are too advanced for the PSP, especially since at the time Sony had the CPU speed slowed down to preserve battery life. This has since been lifted.
  • The Perfect Crime
  • Pet the Dog: At the end of the movie, Dalton slips one of the stolen diamonds into Frazier's pocket, where he will find it much later, so he can have the money to propose to his girlfriend.
  • Pregnant Hostage: As is standard for action film hostage situations, one of the hostages in the bank is pregnant.
  • Prison Rape: Not in the film actual, but Frazier half-jokingly threatens that Russell will end up in prison with two men named Jesus and Jamal.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "Chaiyya Chaiyya", which previously had been used in the
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • The bank manager's ringtone being "Gold Digger"? The little boy's violent video game, where the goal is to "get rich or die tryin'"? Frazier's timidity about proposing to his girlfriend because he's too broke? A movie about bank robbers only robbing from a man who got rich through dealing with the Nazis during the Holocaust? Case's office is filled with pictures of people he's helped including George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher? Spike Lee certainly has an axe to grind against capitalism. One wonders what his take-home on the film was, overall...
    • When the police imagine a scenario where they storm the bank and try to kill the robbers, blood from a shot robber splashes over the safe deposit box where the evidence of Arthur Case's involvement with the Nazis is located.
  • Smokescreen Crime: A gang of well-organized thieves hold people hostage in a bank. The "Rashomon"-Style retelling of the events obscures the gradual reveal of their true plan: to steal diamonds in a particular safe deposit box, as well as exposing the bank president as a Nazi collaborator, and the hostages are meant to delay the police while the thieves conceal the leader in a hidey-hole inside the bank. The thieves then dress all the hostages in clothes like the ones they are wearing and release them all at once to conceal their escape. A week later, the gang's leader simply walks out of the bank with the goods.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: There's a very tense scene early in the movie where the robbers are taking everyone's cell phones. One of the guys claims that he doesn't have his, but the lead robber isn't buying. After threatening the guy several times, he suddenly starts going through all the hostages' phones, until he finds one with a number with the guy's name on it. He calls the phone....and everyone hears Kanye West's "Gold Digger" start playing. Believe it or not, it works.
  • Staged Shooting: The robbers stage a hostage execution using fake blood, in order to continue appearing as a credible threat to the police; all of their actual guns are fake.
  • SWAT Team: The NYPD Emergency Service Units play a big role.
  • Take No Prisoners: In one scene at the midpoint of the film, Frazier, Detective Mitchell (his partner) and Captain John Darius (the SWAT Team leader) discuss what may happen if they decide to go "screw this" and go in all guns blazing, while we get an Imagine Spot of all of the robbers (and probably a few hostages) getting mowed down by gunfire. The cops decide it's too risky, while the sequence has a few shades of symbolism for a future discovery.
  • There Is No Kill like Overkill: Portrayed in a video game played by a young boy. The boy makes his alter ego shoot many times at what must be an already dead man's head, and then he puts a grenade in the man's mouth. An onlooking bank robber/hostage taker is appalled.
  • Truth in Television: Albanian is unrelated to other Eastern-European languages, and Russian technically itself is from yet another language family than those too. So it makes sense the Russian cop trying to translate can't even recognise the language.
  • Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000: The leading bank robber sees one of the hostages, an African-American boy, playing a violent GTA-like game with racial overtones. He's not happy.
  • Values Dissonance: In universe. The lead bank robber has issues with the violent GTA-inspired game the young boy hostage plays on his portable. The boy points out the objective of the game is "Like what my man Fifty says: get rich or die tryin'." The boy also notes he sees the bank robber doing exactly that and has no problem with it. Subverted in that the bank robber really isn't robbing the bank!
  • Van in Black: The van used by the bank robbers.
  • Vertigo Effect: Twice, once subtle, once less so.
  • Video Credits
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: One of the robbers' aims is to expose a Nazi collaborator who made a fortune during the Holocaust.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: The one kid caught up as a hostage during the robbery isn't forced to change clothes like the rest of the hostages (though the robbers clearly thought they wouldn't fool anyone with someone noticeably smaller than them). He's also allowed to keep his gaming device and is held separately from everybody else and the robber keeping an eye on him speaks to him with a more gentle tone of voice. With the robbers not looking to actually hurt anyone, it seems it's not their plan to traumatize a child either. During an interrogation later, he seems no worse for wear.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The plot is a Magnificent Bastard vs a Manipulative Bastard vs a Guile Hero.