+ "Inside Man": For while now, the mere flicker of Spike Lee‘s name across the opening scenes of a film has been enough to set people’s teeth on edge…so straightforward crime caper "Inside Man" might be Lee’s "Match Point" moment for the way most critics are calling it both great and completely lacking the bludgeoning sensibilities we’ve come to associate with Lee as a director. "Mr. Lee may have missed his calling (one of them, anyway) as a studio hire," muses Manohla Dargis at the New York Times, who is not alone in calling the film his best in years, and who also lauds the performances of stars Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, the film’s "holy trinity." Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly is even more impressed, gushing over the film as "a gripping, jugular entertainment that starts off wound-up and never winds down, and only much later do you realize the movie isn’t just playing the audience like a violin, it’s also saying something cunning about human nature and the price of success in the big city," and also claiming the film manages to form "a curious dialogue with Steven Spielberg‘s ‘Munich’" (okay, dammit, we’re intrigued). Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek loves Lee’s New York (as does Grady Hendrix at Slate) and Jodie Foster’s Madeleine White ("This is the best performance Foster has given in years").
At the New York Press, Matt Zoller Seitz outlines the tension felt be Lee’s attempt at splashing in the mainstream ("’Inside Man’ aims to sell out without selling out") but also likes the film despite the flaws he sees:
Some of Lee’s social tension seems shoehorned in, but the best of it plays like an earthbound answer to "Crash"‘s direct-from-1971 racist caterwaulingâ€”an accurate rendition of modern urban Americaâ€™s infinite gradations of prejudice, and a true portrait of how such impulses get submerged and redirected so people can get ahead.
Others aren’t buying Lee as a commercial director, among them Roger Ebert (whose sanity, by the way, we’re seriously questioning after giving, hah!, three stars to "Ask the Dust"), who thinks the pacing’s off, the plot’s fishy, and Christopher Plummer unconvincing as a 90-year-old. Anthony Lane at the New Yorker has something (possibly spoilerish) to say of the subject of Plummer’s bank CEO Arthur Case too:
The document in question, as we learn early in the film, shows that Arthur Case had links with the Nazis. This cannot be true, for one reason: he is played by Christopher Plummer, and, excuse me, but Christopher Plummer does not make friends with Nazis. He sings at them! He plays guitar at them! In a daring, nun-assisted escape, he flees from them over the hills with an annoying child on his back! Come on.
Ha, ha…hah? The patron saint of all snark, Dorothy Parker, must be sloshing in her grave. Lane also argues that "Inside Man" is really "a study of racial abrasion" after all, while J. Hoberman at the Village Voice relishes Lee’s trademark "ethnic vaudeville," and salutes the film as an overlong, but successful, genre flick. And at New York, David Edelstein thinks the film both benefits from and is hampered by its leisurely pace.
"To that small but intense percentage of moviegoers for whom all Belgian realism is a cause for joy, the arrival of ‘L’Enfant’ will be no less exciting than the birth of their own offspring." And then Anthony Lane launches into a rare bad (or, at least, not so great) review for a film that whose praises have been sung by an international choir of critics since it picked up the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year, which he acknowledges:
Viewers in Europe have swooned, it is said, at this movieâ€™s painful
inching toward redemption. Against that, I have to report a slow drip
Unrelated to the fact that we disagree with him on this one, how off is Anthony Lane this week? He’s never been the most insightful of critics, but he could usually be counted on to be his particular form of mild, British amusing. David Edelstein at New York is also not won over by the Dardenne brothers‘ latest, a story of a young homeless couple and their baby, which he calls "wholly predictable, alas," while also acknowledging there are many worth aspects to the film.
And then it’s all praise, some extremely breathless, from here on out, so we’re just going to pull quotes:
Ella Taylor at LA Weekly: "To call ‘L’Enfant’ a movie about growing up would be to trivialize its intention, as in every other movie by this indispensable duo, to bestow on its bruised souls what the writer Grace Paley sublimely calls ‘the open destiny of life.’"
Armond White at the New York Press: "The Dardennes’ storytelling is so highly conceptualized that their brilliant, politically conscious ideas donâ€™t need show-off technique… Through plain, atmospheric camera work and Bruno and Sonia’s innocence, the Dardennes’ fully demonstrate that our morality (which is our politics) originates in how we value the life of others."
J. Hoberman at the Village Voice: "Above all, this is an action filmâ€”or, better, a transaction film. It’s not just that the Dardennes orchestrate an exciting motor scooter purse-snatching and a prolonged hot pursuit. ‘L’Enfant’ is an action film because every act that happens is shown to have a consequence."
Manohla Dargis at the New York Times: "[T]he Dardennes are not interested in passing judgment on a grievously flawed character; that’s why God and Hollywood were invented. Since there is no moral ambiguity in the act of selling another human being, there would be no point in such judgment, other than to indulge in some self-satisfied finger-wagging. Rather, what interests the Dardennes â€” what invests their work with such terrific urgency â€” is not only how Bruno became the kind of man who would sell a child as casually as a slab of beef, but also whether a man like this, having committed such a repellent offense, can find redemption."
James Crawford (who totally wins the ferventness medal) of Reverse Shot, at indieWIRE: "The way I feel about the Dardenne brothers is the way J. Hoberman praises Robert Bresson; to not understand them is to not understand the cinema. With their bleak, uncompromising, and astonishingly affecting dramas of marginal lives, they have thoroughly exploited the medium’s potential for laying bare real life (as fraught with complications as that notion might be). Godard‘s famous axiom that cinema is truth at 24 frames per second, seems to have been formulated with the Dardennes’ films in mind."