Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.
From a cell, a man tells us he has planned the perfect bank robbery; he invites us to watch. An efficient gang enters a Manhattan bank, locks the doors, and takes hostages. They work deliberately, without haste. Detective Frazier is assigned to negotiate, but half his mind is occupied with the corruption charges he is facing. The bank's president has something to protect in a safe deposit box, so he brings in Madaline, a high-power broker with a hidden agenda. With an army of police surrounding the bank, the thief, the cop, and the plutocrat's fixer enter high-stakes negotiations. Why are the robbers asking for a plane, if they are so competent and they know they won't get one? Why aren't they in more of a hurry? If the job's perfect, why is the thieves' leader in a cell? Written by
The interrogation scenes were mostly ad-libbed. See more »
When Frazier and his partner leave the precinct, Frazier tosses his suit jacket in the back seat. When he arrives at the scene of the crime, the jacket is in his lap as he is exiting the car. See more »
My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious financial motivation...
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At the beginning of the opening, instead of the regular "A Film by...." the title reads "A Spike Lee Joint" See more »
By not being a straight genre film it manages to strengthen and weaken itself at the same time
An ordinary day in a major bank, a man dressed as a painter walks in and points torches at the CCTV cameras. Seconds later more people dressed as painters burst in and announce their intentions to all inside. As the hostages are professionally moved into a group and made to dress in the same suits as the robbers, the alarm is raised by a passing cop. For Detective Frazier this is just what he needs to help take his mind off accusations of corruption and girlfriend stress. With a by-the-book hostage situation in front of him things look good but internal and external pressures soon convince him that things are not as straightforward as he first thought.
With the trailer offering a great Saturday night, twisty crime thriller, a heavy cast and a strange directorial choice in Lee, this was a film I was hoping would be glossy, slick, silly and fun. However, although I enjoyed it for what it was, I must confess that the lack of consistent direction and pace made it more difficult to get into than I had hoped. It isn't like this at first, with the film jumping right into a very slick taking of the bank and establishing a professional group of thieves to content with. Bringing in Frazier continues this delivery because he has a good swagger to him and it looked like they would pull off this film. You see, things like this need pace and energy and direction like sharks, they need to keep moving forward or they die; they die by letting the audience question things or move back off the edge of their seat to a vantage point of criticism. With things like Phone Booth, we were never allowed to step back and thus it worked; however here it tries to do other things (to its credit) but these produce an irregular pace, inconsistent tone and tend to take away from the central, gripping action without putting in more than they take out.
It still works but it steps away from the robbery too often to touch on other areas. Now these areas could have been a great compliment to the main thread but they don't work as well as they should. The external pressures from Madeline White should have increased the tension in the film but instead they were mostly separate interesting still but not complimentary. It doesn't help that many of the twists are obvious (certainly the reason for the robbery was obvious even if it is never actually explained or justified that well) and when the final one does come it is delivered too slowly and reduces its impact. The film is funny and this works quite nicely without slowing things down. The device of the interviews as jumps forward is interesting but unfortunately it tells the audience too much and spoils some of the later action by making it too predictable. Like I said, I still enjoyed it but at times I found myself bothered by the impression that it was a genre movie actively trying not to be a genre movie and only hurting itself in the progress.
Visually the film is impressive even if occasionally it felt inappropriate for the material. The movement of the camera, the lush shots of New York, the "chest-cam" shots and the use of music are all unmistakably Spike Lee and it looks great for it. At times it is a bit obtrusive and almost feels too grand for the material but it is hard to criticise a great director (which is what I personally think Lee is) for having his own style and feel, even if at times he is a fault for reducing the pace and energy of the material. He shows that, although his personal films are more interesting, he can do a good job as director-for-hire as well. The cast are impressive on paper but the delivery means they are not all that good. Foster is a good example, she is a solid presence but her material is weak and half-done and I personally felt she could have been totally removed from the film without any great detriment. Washington is cool in the lead and gives a lively genre performance. The film suggests that he thought he was doing more than just a genre film and there are bits of his character that don't work his eclectic wardrobe is one but his past and his girlfriend are also threads that don't work that well. Owen is lucky enough to have the best material and despite a so-so accent he does convince and drives the film forward. His motivations and background are annoying question marks but this is not his fault it is the fault of the delivery that let me question things rather than rushing forward at full speed. Ejiofor is good and works well despite having little to work with. Dafoe is a nice addition but I did feel his material could have been done by someone less famous just as well as he did. Plummer starts the film with such an air of a "powerful old man with sinister secret" that you never doubt for second where the film is taking him again not all his fault but he is not used at all well.
Despite all my misgivings, the film did do enough to engage me and entertain me on a Saturday night as I suspect it will many viewers. However in the cold light of day the film does have threads that don't work and problems relating to pacing and inconsistency in tone. Funnily enough it is actually the irregular pace that reveals the problems whereas it is had played itself as a straight genre film then it would have covered these with pace and energy. Worth seeing but by not being a straight genre film it manages to be both stronger and weaker at the same time.
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