Inside Man is a sharp, unexpected, and satisfying film with a solid story structure at its center. Through the use of clever Storyweaving and atypical character building, Inside Man rises above a traditional bank heist movie into a smart crime thriller. It pretends to be about a bank robbery “gone wrong” but is much more. The story is given a human dimension by the irritable hostage negotiator, his likeable criminal counterpart inside the bank, and a host of high and low level wheeler-dealers. Above all, Inside Man is more than good-looking and intelligent—it shows us the delicate workings of the human heart and soul.
The Overall Story is about a bank robbery. Normally that would be a problematic activity, but Inside Man is set up as a situation (Overall Story Domain of Situation). Dalton Russell is the mastermind behind the heist. His plan requires time for preparation and execution of the theft (Overall Story Concern of Progress), so he makes sure that a “hostage situation” is in place almost immediately upon entering the bank (Story Driver of Action). Dalton and his cohorts keep the hostages and police off guard by blurring the lines between fact and fantasy (Overall Story Thematic Conflict of Fact vs. Fantasy). They ARE robbers (fact) but they’re not there to rob the bank—only one unregistered safety deposit box. There are hostages (fact) but they have no intention of ever seriously harming them. The robbers use look-like-real toy guns and special effects (fantasy) to convince the police and hostages they mean business. The robbers stall for time by squabbling over demands made on the police and the police’s demand for proof that the hostages are safe (Overall Story Response of Proven). The source of conflict in the “hostage situation” grows from the sense that the situation is intolerable (Overall Story Problem of Non-Accurate). The bank owner, the mayor, the hostage negotiator, the hostages, among others, see this as a life-threatening situation, which motivates them to take dangerous chances. Things get dicey when it appears that the hostages might be executed (Overall Story Catalyst of Security). Once the police find out that no one is hurt, nothing of record was stolen, the execution was mocked-up, and the guns were toys, not catching the “bank robbers” is deemed acceptable by the powers that be (Overall Story Solution of Accurate).
Hostage negotiator, Detective Keith Frazier, is the Main Character. He’s a man of action (MC Approach of Do-er) and doesn’t hesitate to tackle Dalton Russell when given a chance. His personal problems grow from false accusations about some missing money (Main Character Problem of Non-Accurate), which affects his performance on the job and in his personal life (MC Concern of Doing, MC Domain of Activity). As someone inclined to “follow the book” (MC Problem-Solving Technique of Linear), he often falls prey to Dalton’s efforts to lead him astray.
Dalton Russell is Frazier’s perfect match as Influence Character. He is both the heist mastermind and a master manipulator (Influence Character Domain of Manipulation), Dalton keeps Frazier off balance by pretending to be things he really isn’t (IC Concern of Playing a Role) such as a clumsy bank robber, a clever robber, a desperate robber…whatever is necessary to string Frazier along. Dalton’s abilities to play the hostage game better than Dalton undermine Frazier’s skills as a hostage negotiator (IC Unique Ability of Ability).
The cat and mouse relationship between Dalton and Frazier grows from an apparent clash between right and wrong (RS Domain of Fixed Attitude). Dalton’s “means to an end” thinking frustrates Frazier whose primary concern is to keep Dalton calm (RS Concern of Impulsive Responses). Dalton’s strong sense of the value and historical worth of the diamonds profoundly affects Frazier, and against all odds brings them closer together (RS Issue of Value vs. Worth). The ring, note, and gum Dalton leaves in the safe deposit box for Frazier seals this connection.
Ultimately, Dalton gets away with the perfect crime (Story Outcome of Success) after the police unsuccessfully attempt to find the robbers amongst the hostages (Story Limit of Optionlock). Frazier learns to let go of things “above his pay grade” (MC Resolve of Change) and enjoy his home life (Story Judgment of Good).
Probably one of the best Storyweaving devices used in Inside Man is the inter-cutting of the released hostage interviews into the middle of the film. This device accomplishes two things. It creates tension essential to the thriller genre by introducing a “who lives and who dies” element. It also takes the necessary, but far less interesting, exposition of the fourth act plot logistics and spreads it around so that the film can take a shortcut from the release of the hostages to the story’s conclusion.
The other notable diversion from a typical crime thriller is having the Main Character on the outside of the situation and the Influence Character as the “inside man.” This puts Dalton as the Overall Story’s protagonist with bank owner Arthur Case as the antagonist. Frazier is relegated to a less obvious role in the standoff—somewhere between reason and skeptic. This leaves room for other interesting characters such as contagonist, Madeline White.
The bottom line is Inside Man works, and in my book that’s always worth the price of admission.