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By Brad Cook | August 14, 2006

Many have compared “Inside Man” to “Dog Day Afternoon,” which is probably only natural since Spike Lee’s movie pays homage to its predecessor in several ways, including a moment where detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) bluntly says to bank robber Dalton Russell (Clive Owen): “You’ve seen ‘Dog Day Afternoon’!” You know, just in case the audience wasn’t sure about that.

However, unlike “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Inside Man” strives to twist the bank heist story convention a bit, having Russell tell us right at the beginning that he’s set in motion the perfect bank robbery. He and his cohorts hatch an ingenious plan in which they not only take hostages but also dress them in the same identity-concealing outfits as theirs, leaving the police confused about who’s a victim and who’s a criminal. (How much you want to bet that someone will try that in real life someday?)

As the story progresses, we learn that Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), the bank’s founder, has something in a safe deposit box that he doesn’t want the world to know about. He retains the services of Madeline White (Jodie Foster), who solves problems for the well-to-do and who uses her connection with the mayor of New York City to get access to the bank and have a face-to-face with Russell.

Of course, that doesn’t sit well with Frazier and his partner, who are hostage negotiators trying to get inside Russell’s head and stay one step ahead of his seemingly bizarre scheme. White is evasive with Frazier about her meeting, leaving him to figure out on his own what’s really going on. Russell proves himself to be an adequate adversary, a quality that is unfortunately missing from too many screen villains.

Then again, you might not consider him a villain once you learn why he has set in motion his plan. While the big secret lying at the heart of the film isn’t terribly interesting and even a bit cliché, the movie makes up for it by giving us a battle royale of wits between characters with competing interests. Sometimes we’re not sure who to root for, and often we’re left in the same position as Frazier, trying to figure out how a seemingly hopeless situation is going to end. That was what kept me glued to the screen, not The Big Secret.

The extras on this DVD include a commentary track by Lee that runs the gamut from pointing out tributes to “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Do the Right Thing” to his approach to filming the actors. Sometimes he lapses into silence, forgetting, I guess, that he’s supposed to be talking about the movie he’s watching. His tracks are always good for some insight, however, and this one doesn’t disappoint. In fact, aspiring filmmakers could learn a thing or two from it.

Next, we have over 20 minutes of deleted scenes, the first of which runs more than 17 minutes. It presents the post-heist interviews in a more linear sequence—they were stitched throughout the film in the final edit, which serves to heighten our curiosity about who’s a robber and who’s a hostage as we watch the heist scenes. It contains some repetition but also a lot of new material. The rest of the scenes aren’t nearly as interesting, especially the news segments, which were thankfully cut.

We also have a pair of featurettes that each run about 10 minutes. The first one, “The Making of Inside Man,” serves up interviews with the actors, Lee, and producer Brian Grazer, along with a glimpse of the first table read of the script conducted during pre-production. The second one, “Number 4,” has Lee and Washington chatting about their three previous collaborations and laughing about the industry in general. It’s interesting, but it’s the kind of thing I would have preferred to see in a two-disc set, so that more room could be devoted to the “The Making of Inside Man.”

As always, don’t be shocked if a two-disc Special Edition comes along at some point. There’s no trailer on this release, and the film is good enough that it deserves some more in-depth documentary materials.

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