Follow TV Tropes


Film / Inside Man

Go To
"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 thriller Heist Film 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 owner.

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 owner 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 bring Case down is the detectives looking over the vault's manifest and finding out that the only safety deposit box the robbers broke in 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.
  • Anti-Villain: Dalton and the bank robbers. In addition to committing a crime, they're there to out Case as a Nazi collaborator. As Russell puts it, "I'm no martyr. I did it for the money. But what's the point of getting rich if you can't look at yourself in the mirror?" See Caper Rationalization below.
  • The Atoner: To a degree Arthur Case, although not presented sympathetically. His lifetime of charitable work and charming personality are basically a conscious effort to "cancel out" his dodgy past of collaborating with the Nazis. He seems to be less repentant than hell bent on keeping secret his past misdeeds.
  • Advertisement:
  • Bank Robbery: Not your typical bank robbery though.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: In-Universe: One of the hostages can vouch for another hostage who happens to be a racktastic woman. And you can see why during the robbery and afterward how she can be so... noticeable. The bank robber "Stevie" similairly stands out.
  • 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.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Dalton delivers the Opening Monologue straight to the audience.
  • Brooklyn Rage: During the interrogation, a kid says, to the amusement of Frazier and his partner, that he wasn't scared by the bank robbers with automatic weapons; he's from Brooklyn.
  • 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: Marcia Jean Kurtz as a hostage who refuses to disrobe in front of everyone else, and Lionel Pina as the cop who delivers pizza to the hostages.
  • The Chessmaster: Dalton Russell. He's planned for everything.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Or rather, Chekhov's pen. Also, Chekov's Gum - Russel offers Frasier 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!"
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The college professor amongst the hostages says he teaches criminal law at Columbia, specifically in genocide, slave labor and war reparation. He is also a former attorney. At the end, it turns out he's part of the theft crew and maybe the mastermind.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The robbers were really lucky there was a woman in the bank who was as buxom as "Stevie" or she'd been easily singled out.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Dalton and the thieves. The complexity of their plan is quite ambitious and presumably required a significant investment of time and money to pull off.
  • 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."
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Case.
  • Deal with the Devil: Case reveals that he sold out one of his Jewish friends to the Nazis for money, even when he had the opportunity to help him.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Even White, who is an unscrupulous political fixer, is appalled by Case's history of collaborating with the Nazis.
    Madeleine: Well, I'd love to tell you what a monster you are, but I have to help Bin Laden's nephew buy a co-op on Park Avenue.
    Arthur: If that were true, you wouldn't tell me.
    Madeleine: We're listing you as a reference.
    • Russell makes clear in his narration that he is a thief first and foremost and he wants money, but screwing over a war criminal feels a whole lot better for his self-respect than "just" taking the money.
    • Played for Laughs when he discovers one of the hostages, a young boy who looks like he's still in middle school, playing a violent video game. "I'm going to have to talk to your father about this."
  • 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 said he'd walk out of the bank. The hostages and the robbers run. Russell leaves a week later, after hiding behind a false wall all that time. He walks right out the door.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Russell 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.
  • 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.
  • The Fixer: Madeleine White, explicitly identified as such.
  • 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 little black 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.
  • Gag Boobs: The hostages noticed one of the thieves is a buxom lady. Two qualify, and one even asks while being interrogated, "So I violated Section 34 Double D?".
  • Gambit Roulette: The robbers' scheme hinges on insuring 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.
  • Guile Hero: Frazier is pretty damn close. Russell flat out says it: "You're too smart to be a cop."
  • 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.
  • Identically Named Group: The bank robbers called one another by various forms of "Steve" (Steve, Stevie, Steve-O). This was part of their plan to stay confusingly anonymous.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Manipulative Bastard: White, Russell.
  • 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 Frasier to "follow the money", and a few scenes later Frasier 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.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: The robbers. They threaten repeatedly to kill someone and at one point appear to have shot someone, but it's all just an act to keep everyone guessing. They however don't hesitate to beat up a bank manager for trying to hide his phone away from them.
  • 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 robber are talking in an unidentified Slavic language, Darius inmediatly 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.
  • 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
  • Pregnant Hostage: As is standard for action film hostage situations, one of the hostages in the bank is pregnant.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "Chaiyya Chaiyya"
  • 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'"? The spoiled rotten Albanian woman being a staunch opponent of Communism? Fraizer'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
  • 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.
  • SWAT Team: The NYPD Emergency Service Units play a big role.
  • Take No Prisoners: In one scene at the midpoint of the film, Frasier, Bill Bitchell (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.
  • Technically a Smile: Madeleine White has a way of smiling in a way that looks genuine at first, but without any warmth whatsoever.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Wicked Cultured: Dalton Russell, light on the former, heavy on the latter.
  • 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.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: