Explosive Face-Offs With America's Deadliest Criminals
by Robert L. Snow
A heist movie/Perfect Crime has never been done with such a deviation from the norm. The fact that it was directed by the racial rebel Spike Lee, working for the first time from someone else's script, assists the departure from the formula. And the unusual take on bank robbery by first-time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz provides the seal of altered perspective.
The planning of the crime is evident by the way four people in overalls and masks enter the large and solid Wall Street bank bearing industrial tote bags, high-powered weapons, white coveralls and masks. Rapidly, they take over, controlling the employees and patrons, instilling fear and compliance.
Most surprised by the way this is going to go are the two NYPD detectives who pick up the bank robbery when it's called in, Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), a hostage negotiator, and his partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Not that they thought it would be a walk in the park, but safe to say they thought they had a chance to wrap it up by dark and keep their boss in his box.
Once apprised of the situation, and after establishing the command pecking order with the cops on the scene headed by Emergency Services Unit Captian John Darius (Willem Dafoe), Frazier's first order of business is to determine the number of hostages, the demands of the robbers, and the situation inside the bank.
While Frazier is busy looking at tapes and interviewing released hostages, the robbery team, led by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), is busy doing things that don't have much to do with your everyday robbery. They do cleverly put all their hostages in costumes like their own as a clever deception for a planned confrontation with the swat team and snipers outside. But when they gain entrance to the vault, there's no money-taking going on. The piles of currency don't seem to be part of their plan.
Our first clue comes when bank president (Christopher Plummer), having been advised of what was going on in the flagship bank in his wide chain, seeks the services of Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), the kind of slick professional whose contacts and abilities to call in favors from high ranking officials in government are coupled with the utmost discretion. It seems the banker has something to hide and, what with the occupation of his bank, needs her to do it. Whatever it is, it's been hidden in a safety box for 40 years or so. A box whose number has never appeared on any inventory list during the life of the bank, which he built.
Even when Det. Frazier finally makes contact with Russell, and realizes he's the one being played by an expert craftsman in prepared gamesmanship, part of which is the fun of a very skillful script, he can't put it together. He begins to stand a chance of making sense of it only when he's approached by White for entrance into the bank for her own brand of negotiation with Russell. Maybe now he begins to realize that the robber's demand for money and escape via bus and passenger jet is part of a subterfuge. Just why is Russell so certain that he's going to walk out of the bank without being shot?
Is this cleverness or what? All the while Det. Frazier, negotiator par excellence, thought he was gaining the upper hand by the tactic of delay he was giving the robbers the time they needed for their real purposes. The cop gets a lesson he never expected and we get a many layered out-of-genre experience.
With a superb cast and excellent cinematography by Matthew Libatique ("Tigerland," "Requiem for a Dream"), this is deliciously deceptive stuff that's clever and dramatic and doesn't resort to implausibility or agendas--wholly worthy for mainstream audiences.
With its marquee values, receipts are likely to be big for this film --if not huge-- and is certainly the best work Lee has ever delivered. He'd be well advised to move on from his agenda-laden message movies and use other writers' scripts more often. This film is an impressive example of what he can do within a straight dramatic context and it will likely attract a lot of new fans. I'm already in line.
The Soundtrack Album