16 June 2006

Not the usual Spike we see

I first heard of Spike Lee when I saw ‘Malcolm X’. That was many years ago. Although I must confess that I chose to see the film because of Denzel Washington’s acting and not for Spike Lee’s direction. Of course, I had heard of the African American leader Malcolm X from reading bits and pieces of Black American history – particularly James Baldwin’s book, ‘The Fire Next Time’ – but, as an Indian, I had never been influenced by any of it.

In fact, this ignorance of Black American history has always come in the way of my appreciation of much of Spike Lee’s films – not to mention the African American struggle and Black American literature. Hence, I probably have missed out a great deal of the essence of Spike Lee’s work, which deal with race, racism, class and power struggles, and media manipulation. One of these days, I hope to catch up on all this.

My re-introduction to Spike Lee happened a couple of years ago when I saw – and added to my collection – Spike Lee’s ‘25th Hour’. Once again, it was Edward Norton who drew me to the film, rather than Spike Lee. But I wasn’t disappointed. On the contrary, ‘25th Hour’ was an engaging film and, by the end of it, it had me in awe of Spike Lee’s masterful direction.

‘25th Hour’ was sombre and full of emotion – rightfully so, as it dealt with the last 24 hours of a man, Monty Brogan (played by Edward Norton), about to serve a seven-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. Regret had overwhelmed him as he said his goodbyes – and I must confess that its impact had got to me too. Monty’s ‘fuck you’ diatribe in the bathroom, where he expressed how he hated and blamed the city he lived in (New York with its multi-ethnic way of life) and everybody in it, and the fact that it was he who was leaving New York while the others stayed, was outstanding.

However, Spike Lee’s recent film, ‘Inside Man’, is another story. It deals with a bank robbery turned inside out as Mr Lee succeeds in giving it a unique twist and flavour. Of course, some of the usual Spike Lee touches are there: multi-ethnic New York City with its hustle and bustle, racism, corruption and political power-plays. But it’s all dealt with subtlety, without the usual Spike Lee outrage. In fact, the media has been kept out of it altogether.

‘Inside Man’ is a good story and an enjoyable film. It should attract the mainstream audience by the millions (well, maybe not in India). I think Spike Lee has finally got himself a commercial hit.

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