Spike Lee's riveting bank heist/hostage film breaks all the rules and comes across as a reworking of a very tired genre that started with Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon. Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) is a detail oriented man who has time on his hands while serving a term in prison. Confinement does not diminished his ability to develop a scheme that has long intrigued him. It involves a prestigious bank in Manhattan and the taking hostages.
Carrying out the plan, Russell and his three co-conspirators enter the building as painters and soon have everything under control. The detective in charge of hostage negotiation is Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and his second-in-command is Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor). They realize that it is not going to be easy working with Emergency Service Officer John Darius (Willem Dafoe), a gung-ho cop with little patience. Early on, Frazier realizes that he is not dealing with an ordinary bank robber who is salivating over the millions of dollars in the bank's vault. The treasure he's after lies in a safety deposit box and it will change the life of the person who holds the key.
Screenplay writer Russell Gewirtz has done an incredible job fleshing out some of the minor characters in the drama who represent a microcosm of New York City. They include a Sikh, who works at the bank and is one of the hostages released by Russell. Outside, an armed cop shouts, "He's an Arab!" and the man responds, " I'm a Sikh," as he is pushed to the ground and his turban is removed. He later complains to Frazier and his partner that there is no end to the humiliations he has to endure in America whether he is being treated like a criminal by cops or the street or stopped by security at the airport.
Another minor character who makes the most of her few minutes on the screen is an Albanian woman called in to identify the voices of Russell and his gang. In exchange for his taking care of all her parking tickets, she tells Frazier that he is listening not to real voices but to a tape-recorded speech of the president of Albania.
The final bit player who shines in a minor role is a young African American boy who is one of the hostages. He shows Russell his violent pocket video game. The bank robber is taken aback by the carnage.
Jodie Foster nearly steals the movie with a spiffy performance as Madeline White, a mysterious power broker who is hired by the bank's board chairman, Arthur Chase (Christopher Plummer), to look after his "interests." She pulls the mayor's strings in one scene, uses some damaging information about Frazier to gain a hold over him in another, then coolly walks into the bank for a chat with Russell.
Madeline White represents all the slick and amoral wheeler-dealers and influence peddlers in big cities whose money and power are invincible, putting them above the law and enabling them to look down their noses at ordinary people who haven't got a clue to the magic they possess nor how they can manage to make so many things happen their way. She is the kind of white collar criminal who has so many friends in high places that there is little chance she will ever do time for her illegal activities or for ruining others' lives. Spike Lee has hit high stride as a moral filmmaker with this extraordinary film about power, amorality, ethics, and urban living.
Special DVD features include a commentary by Director Spike Lee; over 25 minutes of deleted scenes; a featurette Number 4 - Spike Lee and Denzel Washington discuss their creative collaborations; and the "Making-of."