An amazing thing happened at cineplexes across the country this weekend. Adults went back to the movies.
Spike Lee’s latest more than outperformed expectations; it brought box-office receipts out of yet another month-long slump with an audience made up primarily of… drum roll, please… grownups. (According to Universal Pictures' exit polling, 68 percent of attendees were over 30 years old). Starring about as impressive a cast as any director could wish for (Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, and Christopher Plummer), Inside Man’s $30 million take boosted ticket sales more than 13 percent over last year at this time and claimed the number one spot.
And it did it all without pandering to the basest impulses of consumers. No explosions, no reality-bending action sequences, not even—unless you count 43-year-old Jodie Foster—a major babe. Just a tightly choreographed script, first-rate acting, and a bit of directorial flair.
In an old-fashioned gumshoe thriller that sees every character angling to advance his own agenda, Washington plays New York City Police Detective Keith Frazier. Still under a cloud of suspicion from a previous assignment, Frazier jumps at the chance to head up a crisis situation when word comes in that a band of bank robbers have just taken 50 hostages at First Manhattan Bank. Headed up by an enigmatic mastermind by the name of Dalton Russell (Owen, who seems to be making a specialty of such whodunits), the thieves only play at negotiation, inexplicably demanding things both sides of the standoff know they’re not going to get.
But Russell isn’t your typical bank robber and this isn’t your typical bank heist. Around the periphery of the chaos, power players contrive to wield their influence over a situation that shouldn’t hold any interest for them. The mayor calls in favors so a mysterious “consultant” (Jodie Foster) can gain access to both the police and the hostage-takers. She was hired to manage any developments by an even more mysterious banking executive (Christopher Plummer). And though Frazier’s sure none of their intentions are benevolent, he can’t prove it because, as he’s told, the trio’s interest is “above his pay grade.”
Given his past cinematic tirades, some people might be inclined to steer clear of a Spike Lee Joint. But other than a couple of swipes at capitalism’s “haves” (one character claims half of the Fortune 500 got there by breaking the law either in fact or in spirit), and some startlingly incongruous use of obscenities, Lee keeps his axe-grinding to a minimum. Even when he does indulge, it’s in moments where it’s actually appropriate to the story.
Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All
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