19 April 2006

Good Movies: Inside Man & Jarhead

The Inside Man

Clive Owen is the clever leader of a gang of bank robbers. Denzel Washington is the detective in charge of negotiating with Clive Owen, et al. Jody Foster is the line straddling woman of mystery who can impressively run around all day in some really high stilettos. Christopher Plummer is the aging owner of the bank who’s hiding a dark secret. I apologize for the crappy summary, but I don’t want to give away too much.

At first, I was surprised to learn that Inside Man was a Spike Lee film, but then after all the cursing, racial tension, NYC, and blend of comedy & drama, I was like, yeah, I can see that. Actually, I can’t really say that I know what a “Spike Lee film” is given that I’ve never seen a Spike Lee film in its entirety. In any case, based on Inside Man, I’ve determined that I enjoy Spike Lee films.

Like your typical heist film, Inside Man delightfully strings you along as you try to figure out the motive, the pay off, and how the robbers are going to escape from a freakin’ bank surrounded by cops! This, however, is a heist film with layers. It’s the thinking man’s (or woman’s) heist film [Just don’t think TOO hard, or you may spot all the plot holes]. What sets this film apart is the moral ambiguity of the characters. Sure, Clive Owen, as heist leader, Dalton Russell, is technically a criminal, but come on, he’s Clive Owen. He’s the inexplicably attractive Everyman. You can’t help but pull for him. Russell seems to be a ruthless criminal, but then you see him lecture a kid about violent video games or beat a guy senseless instead of gunning him down. That’s when you think to yourself, maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all? Similarly, as Detective Keith Frazier, Denzel Washington is positioned at the film’s good guy, and yet, there’s something about Detective Keith Frazier that leads you to believe that he has his price. Frazier may be committed to bringing about a resolution, but if the bribe were high enough, he just might be willing to switch sides. Of course, I can’t forget Jodie Foster as Madeline White, a sleek, power woman who straddles the line between good and evil. You’ll spend most of the movie asking yourself, what’s her deal? Christopher Plummer is quite adept at playing an old, rich, white guy, but I couldn’t help but picture him in lederhosen (He was in The Sound of Music, you sickos!)

The cast is obviously great (even Willem Dafoe wasn’t as creepy as he usually is), but I have to give a shout out to the screenwriter(s). The dialogue was snappy and hilarious. The zings just kept on coming. I’m going to go out on a sexist limb and say that the writer was male based on the high proliferation of the F-word. I’m sure that cops swear a lot. I’m even sure that bank robbers swear a lot, but was all that swearing necessary?

I mean, we get it. This is badass Denzel Washington, not Preacher’s Wife Denzel. He is manly, strong, and will f#!@ing swear whenever he feels like it!

My only complaint is the camera work. I’m sure that there’s some sort of cinematic merit to the effect, but I hate it when the camera is strapped to a body and captures ALL the motion. I’m talking about that scene where the camera shakes along with the actors as they run through the streets of New York. It’s like the Saving Private scene where they ride to Normandy Beach. I almost tossed the candies that I had so adeptly smuggled into the theaters. Ok, that’s not true, but nonetheless, I found that shaking effect quite obnoxious.

This may not be the greatest film of all time, but it’s certainly better than most of the films in the theaters right now. If you feel like supporting the movie theater industry, definitely see Inside Man. Otherwise, you should definitely see it on DVD. Just watch it soon, so that I can gloat about all the clues I spotted and how I figured out some of the “twists.”


Based on a best-selling memoir, Jarhead follows Marine Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) from boot camp to active duty in the Middle East. Set during the Gulf War: The Original, I finally learn what happened in the 90s.

I get the sense that most of the people I saw this with didn’t feel the same way, but I thought this film was awesome! It’s hilarious, but in a smart, reflective, satirical sort of way. I can’t remember the exact quote, but one of the soldiers, played by Peter Sarsgaard, says something to the effect of: “Forget the politics. We’re here. This is our job.” The actual line is so much smarter, but essentially, this is what Jarhead is about. Centered on the experience of sharp shooter, Anthony Swofford, Jarhead doesn’t focus so much on the politics of the war, but rather, illustrates the day to day experiences of the common soldier. At the start of the film, war is a far off concept. Time is spent masturbating, goofing around, and training for war. However, when war suddenly becomes a reality, we are reminded that these silly, potty-mouthed young men actually have to put their lives on the line. It’s no longer fun and games.

Regardless of your sentiments towards war, this film begs you to think about the individuals involved in war, the soldiers who, regardless of their politics, have a job to do. Jamie Foxx puts in a noteworthy performance as Staff Sgt. Sykes. His performance is a fine example of how Foxx has learned to reign in his comedic talents and be funny without goggling his eyes and going over the top, i.e., No Major Payne (Yes, I know that was Damon Wayans). Jake Gyllenhaal is a hottie, but he can act too. Peter Sarsgaard takes another turn as the messed up friend with major issues, and delivers.

It’s got my recommendation.

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