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Heroes of the Zeroes: Inside Man

by on May 31, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Inside Man”
Rated R

An intelligent, invigoratingly airtight caper and a love letter to New York on crumpled, coffee-stained paper, 2006’s “Inside Man” was the best kind of Spike Lee joint — one where he didn’t stumble over his sledgehammer before swinging it.

Architecture, infrastructure, diversity, greed — Lee endowed “Inside Man” with a fascination for the Naked City’s eight million stories, finding beauty in its bedlam.

From a man’s “Gold Digger” ringtone to a woman demanding waived parking tickets in exchange for assistance, “Man” is stuffed with marvelous tangents running parallel to writer Russell Gewirtz’s mysterious, but fair-playing, chess game. Its three leads all have something to prove, too, driving the film beyond its labyrinthine narrative.

In vintage scoundrel mode, Denzel Washington is a detective seeing his promotion to first-grade fizzle with each passing second of a bank-hostage situation.

Led by a mostly masked Clive Owen, the perpetrators seem to be in a simple standoff, but the crime turns complex after the arrival of a brassy “fixer” (Jodie Foster, so icy that even the hug of a dress on her curves feels at arm’s length).

“Man” throws loops early and often, even during the opening credits. A Bollywood-musical number seems incongruous before New York’s melting pot churns the plot and generates unlikely levity from both racial tension and trampled civil rights.

Lee rarely brings playfulness to his proceedings. So when his camera briefly rests on a Latin inscription for “written law, traditional law,” it’s an entertaining wink that he’s breaking both with boastfulness and brio.