A crime thriller with a drastically different feel than any other Spike Lee joint, this film adds a surprise of depth to a rather conventional storyline that falls right into Hollywood’s wheelhouse. When you look at the history of cinema a bank robber and a high profile detective is rather formulaic by most standards, therefore when Lee took the screenplay that was originally considered for Ron Howard, I was somewhat concerned that the film would be relatively generic in comparison to what the 40 Acres and a Mule imprint is known for. Yet upon further reflection I was thankful to see Lee gain an opportunity to tap into a different audience, and if given the green light to work his magic, I was confidant that he could turn a ‘summer blockbuster’ into a film with actual meaning. Sure enough what we got was a perfect blend of action and suspense, enough to keep the audience on edge while Lee does at least one thing he does best, always getting the most out of the great Denzel Washington.
The last of four films that the actor and director have collaborated on, this film is only the least noteworthy due to the excellence of its three predecessors, and not to any shortcomings of its own. In fact thanks to a clever script (without as many recycled cliches as anticipated) and a number of phenomenal characters (as is usually the case with Lee), this story delivers better than most of his catalogue which in fact is saying a lot. The fact is that Denzel is dynamite and his co-star is outstanding as well, as Clive Owen is more than believable as a merciless maniac who seems to have everything under control. The crux of the storyline revolves around a bank robbery like no other, where a Manhattan bank seized in broad daylight includes hostages whose lives are dependent on countless outrageous demands, along with a proclamation from Owen to Washington that he will walk out the front door exactly the way he came in.
Owen is the criminal mastermind and Washington is the lead detective, and together they play a game of cat and mouse both trying to outsmart the other. Furthermore the genius and the mystery are intertwined in one, as throughout the film it’s relatively unclear what the true motive is, as besides the money there’s a prevailing thought that this particular bank was chosen for one distinct and very significant reason. The Nazi undertones are a haunting yet realistic reminder of how so many multimillionaires in the world didn’t earn their fortunes by being moral or upstanding. Instead actor Christopher Plummer plays the owner of the bank who acquired his wealth from unspecified contributions he made towards the execution of Jews during World War II, a ‘business decision’ that he’s regretted ever since, and has tried to repent for through extensive philanthropic work in the many years that have followed. His nightmare however is that Owen is somehow privy to his secrets and is not impressed or forgiving, thus the bank owner hires a ‘fixer’ in Jodie Foster to strike a deal that would protect his dignified reputation, a request that the bank robbers abruptly decline.
Thus the story falls on Washington and his valiant efforts to be our hero and discover the truth, as even as the ‘hostages’ are released it becomes even more unclear about the nature of the crime that’s been committed. Thanks to a mistake by an overly anxious tactical team led by another famed actor Willem Dafoe, the bank is infiltrated by police without a trace of any suspects let alone the criminal mastermind, and even more mystifying is the fact that not one single dollar was stolen; not even one red penny. With that comes to mind the most impressive aspect of this film, as the interrogations are shown sporadically in respect to quality storytelling and foreshadowing, with every hostage essentially labeled as a suspect while Washington (along with the audience) tries in vain to decipher who is who. Ultimately when the tear gas clears without anybody hurt or any money taken, Washington is pressured to drop the case and consider the conflict resolved, a bureaucratic proposal that a detective of any worth would never to think to accept.
Thus Washington keeps at it, and when the final thread is pulled you can’t help but be impressed by his discovery, despite however impractical it may be. For the most part I can honestly say the story is well thought out, and I’ll go a step farther and say that it’s undoubtedly realistic enough for at least Hollywood’s standards, yet the final culmination is for my taste just too inconceivable to believe. The thought that someone could hide in the… let me stop before I give too much away, but the very implication of such an idea is where the film leaves more to be desired, regardless of how ‘climactic’ it presents itself to be. All the same it is the performances that really make this film worthwhile, as along with the aforementioned superstars there is also a supporting cast (Samantha Ivers, Al Palagonia, James Ransone, etc.) that are all so perfect in their roles that it would be negligent for them to go unmentioned. Add another wonderful score by Terence Blanchard and the film really does feel like a Spike Lee joint, or perhaps one of his joints laced with amphetamines as it plays with adrenaline similar to an athlete on HGH. In fact that analogy works two-fold, as not only are its attributes enhanced but it is also has the numbers to prove it, coming in as Lee’s highest grossing film to date and by a large margin. Therefore even if it feels more like A Rod than Derek Jeter, I commend him for at least swinging for the fences, and for better or worse putting on a show that he knew we all would enjoy.