Spike Lee's strongest, sharpest film since SUMMER OF SAM (1999) takes a clever but gimmicky script by first-time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz and wreaths it in the nostalgic grit of classic New York crime movies like DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) and THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974). And if the twists and turns of Gewirtz's tale of a bank robbery that isn't what it seems and the hostage negotiator who won't let go until he figures out what it is are pure commercial tomfoolery, Lee slyly undermines them by polishing vignettes rooted in the day-to-day dynamics of race, money and cultural power in New York to a brittle shine. NYPD Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is on desk duty following accusations of stealing drug money. Then a smooth gang of thieves occupies the flagship, Wall Street-area branch of Manhattan Trust Bank, fortifying their position with a passel of hostages. Frazier and his partner, Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor), are dispatched to conduct hostage negotiations, though first they have to jockey for position with Emergency Services Unit Captain John Darius (Willem Dafoe), whom they outrank, and sleek society fixer Madeline White (Jodie Foster), who outranks every law-enforcement-machine cog on the site. Frazier doesn't know White's been charged with protecting the unspecified contents of bank president Arthur Case's (Christopher Plummer) personal safe-deposit box, but he does know she's wired into something big and she won't let anything get in her way. Meanwhile, unflappable hard case Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and his crew have dressed the hostages in jumpsuits and masks just like their own and are busily doing some puzzling thing that isn't about liberating the millions of dollars neatly bundled and shrink-wrapped in the vault. Lee cuts back and forth between the crime and the aftermath: No one's left inside the bank and no one emerges in possession of bank property, so Frazier and Mitchell can only hope that threats, sweet talk and mind games will unmask the wolves in hostage's clothing. Well acted (though Foster is the weak link — she nails Madeline's formidable intelligence but can't quite muster the manipulative sexuality that got her where she is) and hugely entertaining, the film strikes a near-flawless balance between sly pop-culture allusions and the details of how business gets done under pressure. You may forget exactly how the plot worked out, but you'll remember the newly released Sikh hostage's rant about post-9/11 racial profiling and the black cop's bone-dry topper: "I bet you can get a cab, though." Touche.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: R
- Review: Spike Lee's strongest, sharpest film since SUMMER OF SAM (1999) takes a clever but gimmicky script by first-time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz and wreaths it in the nostalgic grit of classic New York crime movies like DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) and THE TAKING… (more)