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Inside Man 

Mark Palermo on Inside Man and These Girls.

Despite prevalent claims that Inside Man is a departure for Spike Lee, it’s really more of a reformatting. The tested bank caper genre is used as a front for the director’s social concerns.

As New York City detective Keith Frazier, Denzel Washington leads a prestigious cast of Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Christopher Plummer, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Willem Dafoe. It’s a high pedigree, and Lee’s approach only sometimes resorts to overt manipulation: With the hostages lined up like ducks against a wall, his camera slowly pans each of their terrified faces.

His skill at the genre is revealed in the clever details—a frantic cop telling civilians to stay around the corner, a Sikh turning the focus of an interrogation against the police who removed his turban, a middle-aged white banker with a Kanye West ringtone. There’s a grid motif in most of Inside Man’s visual compositions, made of everything from police tape, wires, bank safes, architecture and the checkered clothes sported by many characters. It bespeaks the tangled puzzle facing Frazier, and also the prison of present day New York, where Lee views concerns of personal security as a landscape of self-serving paranoia.

The dog-eat-dog hustle is an interesting backbone for Lee, but Inside Man’s mainstream packaging means it’s not fully articulated. In a break from his frequent sermonizing (Jungle Fever even scrolled its end credit song lyrics across the screen), this movie is too understated for its own complexity. The final act is overpadded with plot revelations. It’s an effective genre piece that wants badly to break out from that label.

These Girls

David Boreanaz plays the flawed victim in These Girls. But the movie is more comfortable treating him as an object of derision. As Keith, the whispered-about hunk of a small New Brunswick town, his recent polygamy is used against him when he’s blackmailed into the role of a sex slave for three catty teenagers. It’s a division of sympathy that I think the movie miscalculates. Too bad; in many respects These Girls, based on Vivienne Laxdal’s play, captures teen girls’ lives quite nicely.

Set during one of those commonplace teen movie Summers of Love, it has similar observational humour toward young life as Canadian productions such as My American Cousin and New Waterford Girl. Its view of sexuality is much darker, however. This adaptation by John Hazlett uses sex as a powerplay between a group of friends. Glory (ex-MuchMusic VJ Amanda Walsh) is having a fulfilling time “babysitting” for Keith. Pretty soon, her friends Keira (Caroline Dhavernas) and Lisa (Holly Lewis) find out what’s really going on, and decide they too want a piece.

“He’s all I have, don’t you understand that?” lovestruck Glory protests. But her friends don’t care. Their self-interest develops to an antagonism between friends—it’s like a junior version of a Neil LaBute film. But it opts to play things too lightly as a right-of-passage youth nostalgia piece when Laxdal and Hazlett have the opportunity for a real exploration. Keira’s even given the voiceover defense, “Part of being young is the ability to focus so tightly on ourselves that nothing else matters.” But movies needn’t be stuck doing the same thing. The characters and performances in These Girls are created with interest. They have more going on than the film acknowledges.

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