Universal Pictures | Release Date: March 24, 2006
7.4
USER SCORE
Generally favorable reviews based on 274 Ratings
USER RATING DISTRIBUTION
Positive:
216
Mixed:
38
Negative:
20
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7
grandpajoe6191Oct 3, 2011
Too much Characters are introduced and ignored in the movie, but nevertheless "Inside Man" is a powerful heist movie full of ready-tension.
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10
DavidA.Apr 2, 2006
This movie is almost flawless, its not the classic American movie where the good guy beats the bad guy, in here there's no bad guy, everybody is just trying to make it. The ending is awsome, and helps u comprehend the whole movie. There This movie is almost flawless, its not the classic American movie where the good guy beats the bad guy, in here there's no bad guy, everybody is just trying to make it. The ending is awsome, and helps u comprehend the whole movie. There hasn't been a better thriller since the sixth sense. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
7
WalkenM.Mar 27, 2006
Though certainly Lee's most mainstream film to date, Inside Man is much more political than most critics are giving it credit for. Ultimately, Lee reveals detective and bank robber as dual protagonists, fighting corporate and government Though certainly Lee's most mainstream film to date, Inside Man is much more political than most critics are giving it credit for. Ultimately, Lee reveals detective and bank robber as dual protagonists, fighting corporate and government systems that reward corruption, injustice, and opportunism at every step. Between this, V for Vendetta, and Dave Chappelle's Block Party, I'm feeling revolutionary. Down with the white majority! Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
10
LauraW.Mar 30, 2006
Thought it was great!
0 of 0 users found this helpful
7
PanayiotisS.Apr 3, 2006
Clever and entertaining. It seems as Mr. Lee wanted to show the world he could make a good "normal" film and he did it.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
JeffS.May 18, 2006
One of the best caper flicks in years. Only The Score comes to mind among recent ones as being anywhere near as good.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
DanaM.May 4, 2006
No it's not perfect, but it sure is entertaining. And thats all that counts isn't it?
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
CraigA.Jun 2, 2006
This is just great. An entertaining heist movie with (thanks to being directed by Spike Lee) a social conscience. The best bits being the portrayals of everyday predjudice and the dangers inherent in a generation growing up playing This is just great. An entertaining heist movie with (thanks to being directed by Spike Lee) a social conscience. The best bits being the portrayals of everyday predjudice and the dangers inherent in a generation growing up playing 'harmless' videogames. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
DanB.Aug 13, 2006
Go with the critics on this one. Excellent movie! Spike Lee is consumate film maker. He pays attention to the details. Easy to understand why artists perform for him. I compare this one to Usual Suspects which Roger Ebert gave a 38 rating in 1995.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
AndrewT.Aug 24, 2006
Taut, compelling thriller; it kept me on the edge ot my seat and wanting more throughout. This is the best movie I have seen this year. Nonetheless the movie had a few weaknesses: the characters lacked depth and I found the ending a little Taut, compelling thriller; it kept me on the edge ot my seat and wanting more throughout. This is the best movie I have seen this year. Nonetheless the movie had a few weaknesses: the characters lacked depth and I found the ending a little weak, but these are really nitpicks. An excellent movie. Strongly recommended. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
7
AdamR.Mar 25, 2006
Very slick indeed, all actors are playing to strengths here and it shows. Great dialogue brings alive a tried formula.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
7
RHMar 25, 2006
If the ending were as good as the rest of the movie I would have given it a 10. Most of the way through the movie was great... good plot, good acting... then it ends, and leaves you feeling "what happened." Four of us went together and none If the ending were as good as the rest of the movie I would have given it a 10. Most of the way through the movie was great... good plot, good acting... then it ends, and leaves you feeling "what happened." Four of us went together and none of us could figure out what happened at the end. Very frustrating! Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
DanS.Mar 27, 2006
Entertaining and compelling to the end. Not a flawless film but a fun and engaging ride.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
AlisionH.Mar 30, 2006
Thought it was very well done. Excellent acting by Washington and Owen. Lots of action and a good story line. Great movie. Got to be good with Denzel Washington playing the lead. Excellent.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
7
JohnApr 1, 2006
I generally do not like Lee's movies, but this is an exception. The story keeps you on your feet and although I generally do not like Washington he was pretty good in this one. I only see about two or three movies a year and I'm I generally do not like Lee's movies, but this is an exception. The story keeps you on your feet and although I generally do not like Washington he was pretty good in this one. I only see about two or three movies a year and I'm happy this is one I did see. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
MatthewP.Apr 1, 2006
This movie is a must-see movie. It's not the best movie in the world for sure, or even close to that, but it's a movie everyone should see in the big screen.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
RobApr 15, 2006
It resembles "The Usual Suspects" in many ways, although the cast definitely has more star power. My expectations were met; I was entertained, I was surprised, and I laughed. This is the one and only Spike Lee film I've ever liked.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
FrancescoT.Apr 16, 2006
Beautiful.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
10
RandalApr 9, 2006
This is the PERFECT genre movie and has been completely underrated by almost everyone. I expected very little from this other than a competent heist movie and was completely overwhelmed by both the cleverness of the action and pacing, the This is the PERFECT genre movie and has been completely underrated by almost everyone. I expected very little from this other than a competent heist movie and was completely overwhelmed by both the cleverness of the action and pacing, the way that Spike Lee played with your expectations, and the taught character interplay. Everything about it was an unexpected pleasure. The only movies that this can really be compared to are the great French thrillers like Rififi or Les Diaboliques, which were made (like this) by great directors who fully respected the conventions and limitations of the genres they are working inside. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
10
TerryB.May 16, 2006
100% Satisfaction guaranteed! Highly recommended! Spike lee's best for years.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
M.AustinAug 14, 2006
I'm surprised at the number of negative comments posted on this movie. Although not perfect, this movie is certainly entertaining and is better put together than most junk you see on the screen these days.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
AlecB.Sep 18, 2006
I enjoyed watching this movie. A very surprising thriller.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
JaredC.Dec 4, 2007
Filmmaker Spike Lee's first foray into big-studio genre movies, Inside Man is a twisty thriller that makes up for its flaws with star power and sharp observations about post-2001 New York. It's about the volatile showdown between a Filmmaker Spike Lee's first foray into big-studio genre movies, Inside Man is a twisty thriller that makes up for its flaws with star power and sharp observations about post-2001 New York. It's about the volatile showdown between a determined cop and a perfectionist bank robber is sent spiraling toward disaster when a scheming power broker steps in to take control of the situation in this hair-raising heist flick directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, and Jodie Foster. Dalton Russell (Owen) is a bank robber with a difference. In his quest to execute the perfect heist, Dalton has taken every possible factor into consideration. Dalton's uncanny ability of staying one step ahead of the law thwarts even-tempered Detective Keith Frazier's (Washington) best efforts. But there's another factor at play. The bank president (Christopher Plummer) has requested the services of high-profile negotiator Madeline White (Foster). Despite her commendable track record, Madeline is something of a wild card, and before the day is over, this bank robbery will go down in history as one of the most elaborate heists ever executed. Inside Man's plot is exciting, and the acting by Washington, Owen, and Foster all have a stellar performance of their own. I couldn't have liked it more. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
DavidH.Sep 2, 2007
This movie has all the trappings a heist movie ought to have, engaging plot, solid and diverse cast, slick direction, decent score. all works and looks great together.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
MarkM.Mar 25, 2006
Implausible yet oddly entertaining, a testament to the fine job of the cast and director I suppose. Given the way the plot (finally) plays out, it's quite ironic that the "getaway car" is a Volkswagen.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
10
DexterJ.Mar 25, 2006
Wow.. This movie was spectacular.. I really enjoyed it. The theatre I was in unfortunately had a fire alarm when it got to the part where Clive Owen walked out of the bank just like he said. And words cannot describe how bad I want to see Wow.. This movie was spectacular.. I really enjoyed it. The theatre I was in unfortunately had a fire alarm when it got to the part where Clive Owen walked out of the bank just like he said. And words cannot describe how bad I want to see what was going to happen after that.. Once again.. fantastic movie. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
10
ChipK.Mar 25, 2006
A fantastic film! I'll be seeing this one again and buying the DVD when it comes out!
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
DavidC.Mar 25, 2006
If you pay really close attention to small details, there are no surprises as you stay ahead of the game. It's a matter of being able to sort through some of the post-modern elements. Nevertheless, Inside Man is a great story and worth seeing.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
ShelH.Mar 26, 2006
A thoroughly satisfying movie. Compelling from start to finish. (For those who didn't understand the ending, you must not have been paying attention. My wife and I both knew exactly what happened.) Acting is superb, down to the smaller A thoroughly satisfying movie. Compelling from start to finish. (For those who didn't understand the ending, you must not have been paying attention. My wife and I both knew exactly what happened.) Acting is superb, down to the smaller parts, pacing is perfect, and dialogue is original. So far, the best movie I've seen this year. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
TonyL.Mar 28, 2006
It has some flaws, but overall I thought it was pretty good. I loved the loud talking, well bosomed lady. Maybe the success of this movie will give Spike the clout to film a project that is close to his heart.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
FantasyMar 28, 2006
After the garbage I have seen for the better part of a year and a half this was an entertaining film as it kept you on your toes. Denzel Washington was out performed by Clive Owen. Jodie Foster was unnecessary and added little to the film. After the garbage I have seen for the better part of a year and a half this was an entertaining film as it kept you on your toes. Denzel Washington was out performed by Clive Owen. Jodie Foster was unnecessary and added little to the film. The star of the movie was the NY ethnicticty which shined through but only New Yorkers would understand New Yorkers. The ending was a bit of a disappointment as it never explained how Clive learned what was in the box? Still all in all kudo's to Spike Lee, who for once, made a commerical film demonstrating his directing talents without need of using the race card. Expand
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7
S.GoldMar 29, 2006
A good film with the best thing being the acting from the leads (especially Foster) but Lee's inserts only subtract from the film, a fun film.
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8
JudyT.Mar 29, 2006
Very good film, nice ensemble cast and good storytelling.
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9
RyanApr 14, 2006
This movie was very well done. The story was intriguing, the acting was great, and there were enough plot twists to keep you guessing. This is definetly a thinking man's movie. Excellent use of the cameras and pacing. This being my This movie was very well done. The story was intriguing, the acting was great, and there were enough plot twists to keep you guessing. This is definetly a thinking man's movie. Excellent use of the cameras and pacing. This being my first Spike Lee movie (I was too young to see most of them), I will most definitely check out his back catalog. A great movie overall. Expand
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
TonyA.Apr 17, 2006
different take on a heist flick. pretty original, and very clever.
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8
DerrickA.Apr 23, 2006
Excellent suspense film. Loved the way the robbery went down. Nothing is what it seems, eh? I was thinking "now who's going to have the last laugh". The movie clearly answered that.
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10
TonyD.Apr 26, 2006
I rarely see a Spike Lee Joint and end up liking it. Until now. The first lines of this film belong in the most memorable list. Clive Owen steal the screen from Denzel Washington when the 2 are together on screen. Do Not misunderstand me. I rarely see a Spike Lee Joint and end up liking it. Until now. The first lines of this film belong in the most memorable list. Clive Owen steal the screen from Denzel Washington when the 2 are together on screen. Do Not misunderstand me. Denzel Washington Is a fantastic actor. One of my favorites. But Clive Just Rocks. This one of those rare flicks that combine everything from action to comedy to thriller and works. The part when Jodie Foster is called the "C" Word is just classic. If some did not say it i would have. When I said I Have rarely seen a Spike Lee Joint And LIked it. I meant it. "Clockers" "Malcom X" And Now "Inside Man" So Far this one is my fave. Expand
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9
MarshallApr 5, 2006
it's more of a 9.3. but i gave it a 9 just because it wasn't totaly perfect. but it was amazing nonetheless! i was so entertained it wasn't even funny. but it kinda of was for some reason. :-] anyways, go see it! def. worth a gander.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
KebbieB.Apr 8, 2006
Solid acting by all (I've seen better by Denzel but still good). Unpredictable twists somehat in the vein of Usual Suspects. Very good movie overall.
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9
CharlieN.May 17, 2006
Smart and gripping, one of the best movies so far this year!
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9
JoshJul 7, 2006
I thought it was one of the best heist movies Ive seen in a while, it kept me wondering all the way up until the end!
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10
PeteS.Aug 18, 2006
Great movie, Denzel my favorite actor, looking forward for his next movie.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
8
RyanS.Aug 9, 2006
Spike Lee, one of my all-time favorite movie directors, notably for his work in the critically acclaimed, "Do the Right Thing", surprisingly changes his style of direction with "Inside Man", a cop based thriller about a bank robbery done by Spike Lee, one of my all-time favorite movie directors, notably for his work in the critically acclaimed, "Do the Right Thing", surprisingly changes his style of direction with "Inside Man", a cop based thriller about a bank robbery done by a brilliant thief. Unlike Lee's previous dramas, "Inside Man" works, even as an action flick, which is a genre that he's never taken before. Like a "Spike fan" may suspect, he still keeps that racy energetic tone, and also keeps his film-making old fashioned. Overall, the shots look great, you'll find some sizzling action, plenty of tense sequencing, and a lot of great dialogue. But the aspect that makes "Inside Man" a true winner, is the work of the ensemble cast, done by Oscar winning-nominated actors Denzle Washington , Jodie Foster, and Clive Owen. They are all terrific here. The movie does have it's shortcomings though, like the awful music and the corn-ball intro. One thing that I also found unappealing was the pull-off : a conclusion too Denzle's line, "Come on this aint' no bank robbery!", that you've probably seen in commercials or trailers. It seemed way too convoluted for such a well-made movie that was perfectly executed for the first 100 minutes. Although it somewhat disappointed me to some extent knowing it could have been a Grade A thriller, "Inside Man" is nevertheless great, classy entertainment, and it stays with you. Expand
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7
BearOneMar 24, 2006
Solid, witty, but perhaps lacking a punch at the end of the film. Casting and dialogue great. You won't be disappointed too much, but no Usual Suspects.
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8
MarcD.Mar 24, 2006
Whatever you do, enjoy the movie as it's given to you. Don't hold out for a spectacular ending. Revel in the smallest details. I think this is one of Lee's best directing jobs. And Jodie Foster is excellent. Denzel? Oh yeah.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
SheilaP.Mar 25, 2006
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. There are so many small details you need to pay attention to but the end worth wating for. Acting superb and directing outstanding. Don't miss it!
0 of 0 users found this helpful
9
BitBurnMar 25, 2006
Best film I've seen so far this year! All actors play Oscar worthy performance, storyline is very slick. Spike Lee impresses me!
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10
BillC.Mar 25, 2006
Crisp and smart, with a wry sense of humor. A clever heist with a great multi-layered plot. Great acting, though Jody Foster was a bit unconvincing in her role as super fixer. Loved Denzel and Clive, and all the many character actors. Superb Crisp and smart, with a wry sense of humor. A clever heist with a great multi-layered plot. Great acting, though Jody Foster was a bit unconvincing in her role as super fixer. Loved Denzel and Clive, and all the many character actors. Superb soundtrack too! Expand
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8
YaritsaH.Mar 27, 2006
I give this movie an 8 because it was well planned out. The actors did a ver good job acting in this movie i enjoyed it very much and the whole movie had me guessing what was going to happen next.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
10
BarryS.Mar 29, 2006
People you are rating this movie low are the problem with the average movie going public these days. Throw a few explosions at them, and some wacked out main character that solves his problems with fists and they rate it a ten. And you get People you are rating this movie low are the problem with the average movie going public these days. Throw a few explosions at them, and some wacked out main character that solves his problems with fists and they rate it a ten. And you get extra points for CGI it seems. This movie was great! It reminds me of some of the old detective fictions that were made in the 30's and 40's like the Maltese Falcon, and then later on in the 70's Chinatown. No, Denzel didn't use a gun and blow stuff up ever chance he got, but he was intelligent and methodical in solving the case. This movie moved us through the 3 stages of a detective fiction very fluidly. It also managed to do it in a modern context. While using all the new tricks of film and the technology that we have developed, the film still adhereing to the classic detective fiction motiff. The filming was excellent, and the director managed to get tons of great shots in that helped to set the tone for the movie. The closeups on the characters, the rackish angles that cause uneasiness, and the double focuses helped to present us with a story and feeling that is really unsurpassed by just about anything that has come out this year. AND BEST OF ALL IT IS AN ORIGINAL MOVIE, NOT A SEQUAL, A COMIC BOOK, OR A REDO! Thank you Spike Lee for doing something real and different! Expand
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8
AnnK.Mar 31, 2006
I found this movie highly entertaining. Yes the plot is implausible at times but the three main leads kept my attention. I enjoyed the dialogue, action shots and the overall theme.
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10
BillS.Apr 12, 2006
This is Spike Lee's best and puts him in the same league as directors like Hitchcock. The photography, tricks and straight, direction, and the unfolding story kept me rapt and on the edge of my seat the whole time. Denzil's This is Spike Lee's best and puts him in the same league as directors like Hitchcock. The photography, tricks and straight, direction, and the unfolding story kept me rapt and on the edge of my seat the whole time. Denzil's character was a bit too self-righteous, but that's ok as the leading character. Jody Foster's performance was enigmatically appropriate, one of her most complex and interesting since she played the single mom in Little Man Tate. She told great stories with small gestures. Kept me guessing until the end and was a lot of fun. (Loved the lady who solved her unpaid ticket problems using a little Albanian.) Expand
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7
MichelleJun 19, 2006
Honestly? I was somewhat disappointed. Jody Foster's role was kind of dumb.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
7
DanC.Aug 18, 2006
This movie is just okay. Better than many, but at no point does it approach true excellence. It is certainly better than the dreck that Spike Lee has put out too often in his career (what happened to the energetic genius of Do the Right This movie is just okay. Better than many, but at no point does it approach true excellence. It is certainly better than the dreck that Spike Lee has put out too often in his career (what happened to the energetic genius of Do the Right Thing?). I strongly agree with Ebert's review. Expand
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8
SarahP.Aug 24, 2006
When i saw the commericals i thought it looked stupid but once i actually saw it, i really liked it tho it did confuse me a bit.
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9
ButteredPopcornAug 28, 2006
Thoroughly entertaining. Spike Lee has a very subtle but pervasive sense of humor. Engrossing. A lot to like about this movie and i can find no fault with it at all.
0 of 0 users found this helpful
7
RobC.Feb 29, 2008
'Inside Man' never really tries for greatness, and that's fine by me. An excellent premise (the robbery) is somewhat tempered by so-so dialogue (though there are a few exceptions-I think others have pointed them out). The 'Inside Man' never really tries for greatness, and that's fine by me. An excellent premise (the robbery) is somewhat tempered by so-so dialogue (though there are a few exceptions-I think others have pointed them out). The witness interviews were drawn out and a bit unnecessary. And of course there was the standard racial commentary one can expect from Spike Lee. But in the end, this movie delivers where it counts: as a suspenseful, tense thriller with an electrifying performance by Clive Owen as the robber. Expand
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7
OnAnarchyJan 20, 2013
Good but not great. Solid acting from all the contributors, but the film doesn't feel like a thriller or heist film. Was expecting more, but a decent film nonetheless.
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7
SpangleMay 24, 2014
Overall, Inside Man is a good heist movie with enough negatives to detract from what is truly a really thrilling and entertaining heist. First, the positives. Clive Owen kills it as the bank robber. Really, he and the heist as a whole areOverall, Inside Man is a good heist movie with enough negatives to detract from what is truly a really thrilling and entertaining heist. First, the positives. Clive Owen kills it as the bank robber. Really, he and the heist as a whole are what make this film a success. The trickery and deception he employs really make this a fun and entertaining watch. Denzel Washington also has a good turn as the detective, though he certainly takes a back seat to Owen, as well as Jodie Foster who does great in her role as a "fixer". As we watch the events unfold, it is very entertaining to watch the head-to-head battles between the three as they all represent competing interests concerning the heist. Finally, the ending is great as we learn how everything transpired. There are still some things that make no sense, but I will let it slide here.

On the negative side, as with all Spike Lee films, there are parts where race is shoved down your throat. Luckily, it did not choke the life out of this one, but still felt forced, irrelevant to the storyline, and unnecessary. In addition, the camera work is at times spotty and left me scratching my head and wondering why they chose to use that angle or use that effect, etc. Two scenes in particular (one in which Washington's character runs to the bank doors and one in which Foster's character is patted down by one of the bank robbers) where the camera work is annoying and takes you out of the film entirely.
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8
ThegodfathersonDec 15, 2013
Inside Man is a sarcasm-packed thriller that remains interesting because of all the talent involved. It’s a refreshing movie that gets your adrenaline racing and continues the potential Spike Lee reignited with 25th Hour four years ago. WhileInside Man is a sarcasm-packed thriller that remains interesting because of all the talent involved. It’s a refreshing movie that gets your adrenaline racing and continues the potential Spike Lee reignited with 25th Hour four years ago. While not every twist in the script works, there are enough goods to keep its shortcomings from mattering too heavily. During these dreary cinematic months, Inside Man is prime entertainment and a much-needed bang for your buck. Expand
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8
heeldavidJul 21, 2014
Inside Man is really (not to be too cliche) a thrilling ride and probably some of Spike Lee's best work. The performances from Washington, Owen and Foster are just great and approriate for this heist thriller.
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10
Zak21Jul 7, 2014
Inside Man was an action packed, tense and suspense filled, and overall exciting movie. This movie is going into my book as my favorite movie. The actors were absolutely amazing and they fit their part.

If I had to watch a movie
Inside Man was an action packed, tense and suspense filled, and overall exciting movie. This movie is going into my book as my favorite movie. The actors were absolutely amazing and they fit their part.

If I had to watch a movie over-and-over again, this would be it. It is filled with energy and is absolutely incredible. The soundtrack was amazing and fit well in the movie. The actors were well placed, and were great at their job.

Clive Owen's ego and personality really fits the character "Dalton Russel" as explained. Denzel Washington also did a fantastic job of "Detective Keith Frazier." Overall the actors of this movie really had a place and knew what they were doing.

If you are looking for an action-packed, somewhat comedic, and suspense-filled movie, you should really check out "Inside Man." Spike Lee has outdone himself on this one, as it is a well put together film that is sure to please you. It is rated 'R' so be careful who watches it. Overall great movie.
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9
MrBlackTronJul 28, 2014
Mükemmel kurgulanmış benzerlerinden oldukça farklı çok değişik bir tat veren olağanüstü oyuncu kadrosuyla ve yönetmen spike lee eşliğinde daha önce neden izlemediğimi düşündürten film. Kesinlikle klasikler arasında yerini alacaktır mutlakaMükemmel kurgulanmış benzerlerinden oldukça farklı çok değişik bir tat veren olağanüstü oyuncu kadrosuyla ve yönetmen spike lee eşliğinde daha önce neden izlemediğimi düşündürten film. Kesinlikle klasikler arasında yerini alacaktır mutlaka izlenmeli... Expand
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8
RalfbergsAug 18, 2016
Really exciting movie, which makes you guess what will be the end game all along. Magnificient acting, funny moments and all around interesting plot. If you like heist/bank robbery movies, then you will enjoy this a lot in my opinion.
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8
CineAutoctonoJul 25, 2015
for me they have created a perfect plan for a great movie , in an excellent plot , a great deal where Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen got a good job each and where Spike Lee was the biggest star.
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7
MovieMasterEddyApr 3, 2016
'Inside Man,' a Crime Caper Starring Denzel Washington.

For most of his career, the great and maddeningly unreliable Spike Lee has been anything but — to borrow the title of his diverting new film — an inside man. Mr. Lee, who hit the
'Inside Man,' a Crime Caper Starring Denzel Washington.

For most of his career, the great and maddeningly unreliable Spike Lee has been anything but — to borrow the title of his diverting new film — an inside man. Mr. Lee, who hit the scene in the mid-1980's with "She's Gotta Have It," a barbed independent comedy that jump-started the black film movement and made him a national brand, has preferred to be seen as an outside man, a rebel who said what he wanted, when he wanted, far from the industry establishment. To judge from this precision-tooled amusement, Mr. Lee may have missed his calling (one of them, anyway) as a studio hire.

"Inside Man" is a jolt, partly because it comes equipped rather incongruously with the name of Mr. Lee's company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, but mostly because this is the kind of seamless diversion that should be a stock item in Hollywood, but isn't. Much like Richard Donner's recent actioner, "16 Blocks," another effective piece of genre showmanship, "Inside Man" works because it takes a familiar setup — in this case, a Wall Street bank heist that mutates into a hostage crisis — and twists it ever so slightly. A particularly solid screenplay helps here, as do stars who can actually act — this film's holy trinity being Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster — along with an excellent supporting cast and the best lineup of pusses and mugs outside "The Sopranos."

Here's how it goes down: Mr. Owen stares into the camera and announces that he is about to commit "the perfect bank robbery." Whether his character, Dalton Russell, succeeds is immaterial to how he gets from the first act to the third, which is where Mr. Lee's movie love comes in. This is the least overtly personal of Mr. Lee's films, but it's also his most polished and satisfying work in years, with none of the raggedness that sometimes mars even his best intentions. Taking his cue from the surprising, witty screenplay by the newcomer Russell Gewirtz, the filmmaker frames the heist and subsequent standoff as a really big show — namedropping "Dog Day Afternoon" along the way — then cuts his actors loose and lets them play.

As the action pings between Russell working his wicked ways inside the bank (beating hostages, forcing them to wear unflattering coveralls); Mr. Washington's smooth operator, a veteran detective named Keith Frazier; and Ms. Foster's Madeline White, a fixer hired by the bank, you might find yourself trying to unknot the increasingly tangled plot. Don't bother. Filled with playful noise and nonsense, clever feints and digressions, "Inside Man" has a story to tell, but its most sustained pleasures come from its performances, especially the three leads. To watch Mr. Washington breeze into a scene smooth as silk, smooth as Bogart and Easy Rawlins combined, or to listen to Mr. Owen murmur sweet nothings into the camera, is to experience the ineffable pleasures that only big-screen stars can provide.

Mr. Lee rarely treats his actresses or female characters as well as their male counterparts, but whether by design or neglect, he helps Ms. Foster deliver her wittiest, most relaxed performance in ages. Part Mata Hari, part Ilsa the She Wolf, she stalks the sets in form-fitting suits and nose-bleed heels that show off her spectacular legs wonderfully. (She could kill with those things!) In a story dominated by men, in which most of the women are either desexualized or double-D babes, her character presents an amusing fantasy of female power. One of those mysterioso brokers who circumvent both the law and the criminal element for the deepest pockets in town, Madeline isn't the equal of any man: she's superior. And you thought dominatrixes wore only black leather.

Like everyone else in the film, Madeline seems interested only in getting hers. Russell wants his ill-gotten gains, Detective Frazier wants his promotion, and the bank bigwig (Christopher Plummer) wants his secrets kept — it's a Hobbesian world, after all. Mr. Lee, meanwhile, most likely wants the respect that he has always been due. Consistently underrated and underappreciated, this filmmaker is an erratic talent, if no more so than many ensconced in Hollywood, and his insistence that race matters has cost him dearly with the mainstream (i.e., white) audience. He's right, of course, that race matters, which is why, in between plot points and star turns, he gently and, at times, rather hilariously, insists on reminding us that it does. He may have sublet this "Spike Lee Joint" to out-of-towners, but it's good to see that he hasn't left the neighborhood.
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shiftworkerNov 30, 2016
Crime. Clive Owen is the clever bank robber, Denzel Washington the clever cop in this interesting heist movie. Jodi Foster and Christopher Plummer provide reliable support in the secondary plot. Rewards a second or third watch a few years later too.
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