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Is Inside Man (2006) Based on a True Story?

Directed by Spike Lee, ‘Inside Man’ is a crime thriller film that revolves around Detective Keith Frazier as he navigates the fine line between hostage negotiator and his own duties as an investigator searching for the truth during an active bank robbery. As with any other film in the genre, lives are at stake, and everything is not as it seems. It features terrific performances by Denzel Washington and Clive Owen in the lead roles, along with Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Plummer.

While watching this thrilling mystery unfold, one can’t help but wonder whether pulling off such a heist is possible or not and whether the 2006 film itself is based on one of the numerous bank robberies which have occurred throughout history. If you are curious about the same, we’ve got your back. Let’s dive in!

Is Inside Man a True Story?

No, ‘Inside Man’ is not based on a story. With an original screenplay by Russell Gerwitz, this thriller takes on a life of its own through its characters. As NYPD Detective Keith Frazier, Denzel Washington is charismatic through his sheer bluntness. It is obvious from the observations and deductions he makes based on his understanding of the people around him that he has a little more than a few years of working in law enforcement under his belt. But at the same time, Frazier isn’t removed from or better than any of the other characters in the story, especially not the audience.

Frazier makes mistakes now and again and has problems of his own in life, such as not being able to marry the woman that he loves because he cannot afford it. This is what makes Frazier relatable as a character. However, the same is true for our antagonist as well. Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) is the criminal mastermind in ‘Inside Man.’ He plans, organizes, and executes the entire robbery in the heart of New York City. His apathy and willingness to rough up hostages without a moment’s hesitation clearly mark him out as the bad guy. Yet, there are certain scenes in the film that show a kinder side to him.

The film is deliberate in its presentation, choosing either the old or the very young to act as the subject of his kindness, even if that kindness isn’t obvious to anybody but the viewers. It creates sympathy for Dalton and makes the audience root for him too. Throughout the run of the film, it is emphasized again and again that Dalton’s plan is flawless and formidable and that he would be able to escape from right under the NYPD’s nose. This is not a possibility but a certainty. While the characters might not be aware of it, it is obvious enough to the viewers that this is how the film will end.

The true essence of the story lies in between the “why” and the “how.” The “how” is hinted at well-paced intervals in ‘Inside Man’ – when the robbers make everybody held hostage inside the bank strip down to their underwear and change into grey overalls and masks which look exactly like the ones they’re wearing; when the robbers are shown taking turns digging up a hole in an unremarkable room within the bank, and a flashback at the end of the film where two “hostages” are putting up fake tiles on a wooden frame.

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Together, these hints are very telling of exactly what they’re trying to accomplish. But scattering them in the film makes the audience form their own theories and conclusions. For example, the sequence where the hostages are made to change into overalls makes one think that Dalton’s exit strategy is to blend in with the crowd and disappear with his accomplices in the confusion. This theory is further enforced by Dalton’s claim of walking out the front door again and again. In reality, however, this is a misdirection for both the police and the viewers.

Frazier and his partner Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) end up interrogating everyone who came out of the bank but reach no conclusion as to either their guilt or innocence. Without any concrete evidence, the police are ultimately forced to release the hostages/suspects and shut the case down. The misdirection for everybody watching ‘Inside Man,’ however, is a lot subtler and only reveals itself in hindsight once the credits start rolling. Dalton does walk out the front door of the bank, but it’s not when the audience expects him to.

A brilliantly written heist, ‘Inside Man’ doubles up as an indictment as well. At the beginning of the film, there is a shot of Dalton in which he explains why he robbed the bank by simply stating, “Because I can.” Acceptable, as far as reasons are concerned, but it doesn’t explain anything of his motivations. As the story progresses, it is discovered that Dalton and his crew are after the contents of a safety deposit box that belongs to the owner and founder of the bank, Arthur Case.

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The diamonds are, in fact, blood money that Arthur collected from the Nazis after turning in a French Jewish family during World War II. That is how he funded his business empire. Afraid that this secret might be revealed during the heist, he hires Madeleine White, a power broker of sorts, to strike a deal with the robbers and make it all go away. Dalton, however, is prepared for this scenario as well. He takes the papers as security that neither he nor his partners in crime will ever be hunted down by Arthur Case.

It is, again, a misdirection because he leaves behind a clue for Detective Frazier, which sets in motion Arthur Case’s downfall. How he knew about the safety deposit box or the old businessman’s dark past is never explained. However, one of Dalton’s accomplices is a rabbi and might allude to having some connection with Arthur Case.

‘Inside Man’ is an excellent example of how not everything is black and white. The robbers are never actually the bad guys, taking only that which was cruelly stolen in the first place and touching nothing else. The real bad guys are hidden in plain sight, behind shady deals and favors. Their rifles are airsoft guns, and the Ruger that Dalton pulls out on Sergeant Collins (Victor Colicchio) is sans bullets as well. Though the film does leave some questions unanswered, there is a finality and satisfaction with how everything comes to an end.

But more than that, despite being driven by a fictional script, what makes ‘Inside Man’ truly unique is the fact that it makes the audience a part of the story as well. The scattered breadcrumbs which are left behind for the audience make them unwittingly try and deduce Dalton Russell’s motivations and what he will do next, becoming detectives in their own right.

Read More: Where Was Inside Man (2006) Filmed?



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