Sunday, July 08, 2007

Breakdown - Inside Man

Hey guys,

Today, I'm proud to post Miriam’s latest
movie breakdown. For those who may not be familiar, Miriam is so passionate about screenwriting that she will actually time scenes when she watches movies. On rare occasions, she will even do a complete breakdown of a film, which is great for aspiring screenwriters in terms of studying pacing, scene length, and how much that has to be accomplished in so little time. She WILL change the way you think about screenwriting.

At the end of her study, you’ll see a breakdown with her general thoughts, like this one: “There are 83 scenes that average 1 minute and 28 seconds long. Only 17 of them are over 2 minutes. 30 of them are less than a minute. Lee keeps his action going with short, concise glimpses of the story.”

You can get the script by Russel Gewirtz here.

As always, you did a superb job, Miriam.



1. 0:59 – In less than a minute Spike sets up the premise, gives you a taste of things to come, and gives you a clue that things aren't as they appear in this story. We open with Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) against some kind of cinder block wall in a dark room. He tells you, "Pay strict attention to what I say." He then tells WHO he is. The WHERE can best be described as a prison cell, but it's not a prison. Then we get some quick shots of Dalton in his cell, reading, doing push-ups, etc. He says the WHAT is the perfect bank robbery, and that's also the WHEN. WHY? "Because I can." That leaves only HOW and, "therein, as the bard would say, lies the rub." By showing us Dalton first, and having him introduce the story, Lee is telling us that Dalton is probably not the antagonist he seems for most of the story. Pay strict attention. 0:00:59

2. 2:33 – The music comes up (Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood Joint by AR Rahman) and under the title we watch the set-up. A dark van with "Perfectly Planned Painting" on its side drives through the city and picks up several people. The driver and all the passengers are dressed in white painter's coveralls and carry supplies we assume are for painting. The titles themselves spin in and out of view. For the title (Inside Man) and the Directed by Spike Lee titles there are faint lines around the perimeter of the circle they describe. Later we will realize they look like they're on the dial of a combination lock, such as what you might find on a bank vault. 0:03:32

3. 1:25 – The music fades out over shots of the details on the bank: the gargoyles, the stylized eagles, and finally the brass statue of the bull. The camera tilts down to find the van coming up the street. Inside the bank, people go about their business. A bosomy girl strikes a discordant note by talking loudly on her cell phone. A Jewish jeweler talks to a loan officer. The van parks and the "painters" get out. They unload lots of supplies and carry them into the bank. 0:04:57

4. 0:53 – Dalton enters the bank and places things that look like emergency lights on a table. As the security guard approaches the girl on the phone, the lights black out the security cameras. 0:05:50

5. 1:26 – The other "painters" bring in supplies while Dalton continues to put out the cameras. Nobody notices his lights and the security guard seems not to notice the team of "painters" and their supplies. When they put a big lock on the door, he notices that and approaches them. But Dalton is behind him and sticks a .357 magnum in his ear. The whole team goes into action. Several smoke bombs are thrown, AK-47's come out, and the robbers curse and yell threats. Within seconds, everybody is on the floor, including the tellers. Dalton grabs the Jewish jeweler and pushes him down. We don't see him hit the floor, because he falls with a desk blocking him. Yes, this is significant. 0:07:16

6. 0:52 – Sgt Collins (Victor Colicchio), a beat cop outside the bank, notices the smoke curling out from under the door and goes over to check it out. Dalton opens the door, sticks his .357 magnum in Collins' face, and talks in a fake Russian accent. He tells Collins he has hostages, to stay away from the door, and to call it in. 0:08:08

7. 0:45 – Technically this is part of the next scene, but I've separated it because two distinct things happen. During this first part, Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) talks to his girlfriend, and the camera is so close that it almost caresses his face. It's a very intimate shot. She asks about some kind of check cashing problem, they discuss her brother, who is locked up, and then she says she wants a ring. The conversation is intercut, so we know she's also a cop, but she wears a uniform and Frazier is a detective. After she asks for a ring, they switch to sex talk. He says he has the twins and she says she has the handcuffs. 0:08:53

8. 1:03 – As Frazier ends the call, Lee cuts to a long shot that encompasses the scene around him. He doesn't have a private office, and his desk butts up against that of his partner, Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor in a thankless role). Bill asks about the call and Frazier explains his situation, which is purely for the benefit of the audience. It's so blatantly expository that it almost hurts. Poor Ejiofor's only role is to keep Washington from having to explain all this to the camera. So Frazier tells Mitchell that his girlfriend wants to get married, she has a lazy, alcoholic brother who lives with them, and that he knows the check cashing thing will work out just fine, because he's innocent. She wants to get married, but he wants to wait until he makes Detective First Grade. Then their captain bursts in to tell them the bank is being robbed. The scene winds up with the captain asking about the check cashing thing, so now we've heard about that three times. 0:09:56

9. 0:38 – An active scene. Frazier and Mitchell burst through a door toward the camera and walk through a pulling shot as they get their coats on and check their guns. Frazier sets a very spiffy hat at a jaunty angle on his head. He says, "Bad guys, here I come." The scene continues very briefly outside as they jump into a car and race away. 0:10:34

10. 1:51 – In one of the longer scenes during the opening set-up, Lee shows us the details of turning the outside of the bank into a crime scene. A huge van pulls in, metal barricades are set up to keep the crowd back, red tape is run around the perimeter, and fire trucks and reporters show up. The big van is a traveling police station. Inside, it has a small meeting room and a larger room with computers, phones, and files. It has a satellite link-up so they can download info from various databases. The pace is frenetic. 0:12:25

11. 0:57 – By contrast, this scene is quiet and slow. It starts on a shot of an intricately tiled ceiling: the kind of thing you might find in an Italian castle. The rest of the room is full of rich antiques and speaks of old money. It is an office, but also a sanctuary. The man who owns it, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), is used to power, but the news of the break-in at the bank hits him hard. As soon as he realizes what his assistant has come to tell him, he asks which branch has been hit. Then he says, "Oh dear God." At first we think he's concerned about the employees. Later we find out that he has a personal reason to be extremely concerned about a breach in security at this particular branch. 0:13:22

12. 1:02 – Frazier and Mitchell arrive at the bank and we find out through dialogue that he's a hostage negotiator. Sgt. Collins fills him in and confesses that having the gun stuck in his face shook him. Frazier exudes authority. He tells Collins he can go, but Collins wants to stick around. Frazier gives him the nod. 0:14:24

13. 5:36 – This is the longest scene of the set-up, and it establishes Dalton's goals and methods. He and his team take the hostages down to the offices in the basement. He lines them up by employees and customers, then collects their cell-phones. Peter Hammond (Peter Frechette) tries to hide his cell-phone, but Dalton finds it by calling it from another employee's phone. He asks Peter what he would like on his headstone. During this shot, Dalton seems reasonable and even gentle, but his gun appears as he says, "headstone" and he ends up beating Peter Hammond pretty severely. All the other hostages are frightened into submission. Dalton then separates the hostages by male and female, which confuses them, and tells them to strip to their underwear. Then he makes them put on dark jumpsuits and masks that are exactly like what he and his team are wearing. Now everybody, hostages and kidnappers alike, all look the same. The only glimpse of humanity in Dalton is when the only child in the group offers up his video game along with the cell-phones. Dalton lets the kid keep the game and doesn't make him wear a jumpsuit. 0:20:00

14. 0:05 – The sound for this scene starts over the end of the last scene. It is the first report of the bank robbery. We'll get these scenes periodically throughout the story. They don't really add to the information, but they do underscore the realism, just like the scene where the barricades were set up and the police van was brought in. 0:20:05

15. 1:19 – Frazier finds the uniformed cop in charge, who is Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe). There is some tension at first because Darius is used to dealing with Mr. Grossman. Frazier says he's the "big dick" today and that DETECTIVE Grossman is on vacation. Darius backs down professionally and then Frazier backs down just as professionally to give Darius a chance to get control of the situation. He tells Darius to come get him at the café when he's ready to give him his preliminary report. There's no sub-text, but it's a nice example of how things work in the hierarchy of policemen. 0:21:24

16. 0:38 – This is a completely useless scene. Frazier and Mitchell head to the café and Frazier explains to Mitchell what just happened, as if we didn't catch it. The character of Mitchell could have been written out entirely and the story would have been stronger. 0:22:02

17. 1:18 – Inside the bank, Dalton is summoned to a room where an old man is gasping for breath. Dalton unlocks the door and shoves him outside. Because of the jumpsuit, the cops think he's a kidnapper and surround him with guns drawn. They finally identify him as a hostage. Now they know that Dalton has disguised his hostages. 0:23:20

18. 0:33 – In a dramatic shift, the scene switches to an interrogation room. The lighting is bright and contrasty. One of the hostages talks directly to the camera documentary-style. He tells how he was afraid he would never see his family again. At the very end, the shot cuts to a wide shot showing Frazier and Mitchell across the table from the hostage. They are listening sympathetically. 0:23:53

19. 0:56 – A series of shots. The hostages have been separated in groups of about ten into various offices in the basement. They can talk within their own little groups, but don't know what's going on in the other rooms. The kidnappers patrol the rooms, to make sure the hostages stay submissive. Dalton checks out the vault, and safety deposit boxes, and the storage room. When he sees the storage room, he says, "Beautiful." 0:24:49

20. 2:00 – We meet the last major player: Maddy White (Jody Foster). Maddy is carefully groomed and always in complete control of both herself and her surroundings. She is interviewing a Middle Eastern businessman in an impeccable suit about his uncle. There seems to be a problem with his uncle. Her assistant comes in to tell her Arthur Case is on the phone and she drops the businessman like a hot potato, but politely. She escorts him out as quickly as possible, and then goes to her desk. She checks with her assistant that it was Arthur Case himself who initiated the call, not his secretary, and then talks to him. In an intercut conversation, he tells her he has a problem and he needs her help. He understands she is somebody who can get things done. We are given to understand that she is meticulous and careful, and that she has a lot of influence with powerful people. She tells Arthur that she will help him, but that he will then be in her debt. This is how she influences people. She calls in favors. All of this is in the subtlest sub-text, of course. People like Maddy never come out and say exactly what they mean. If her clients can't understand her subtle hints, then they aren't the kind of people she wants to help. 0:26:49

21. 1:24 – Back to the interrogation room with the bright, contrasty, light. Now we see that Frazier and Mitchell are actually grilling the hostages, even poor, beat-up, Peter Hammond. He explains that they had a genius plan. The next guy says they called each other variations of Steve: Stevie, Steve-O, etc. The last guy is the old man who had the heart attack, or whatever it was. Even though he was the first one out, Frazier and Mitchell hammer him with questions, as if they suspect him. Do you know what an AK-47 looks like? Have you ever robbed a bank? Apparently they don't know which of these people is a hostage and which is a kidnapper. This is also the first time we realize that these scenes take place in the future, after the hostages have been freed. 0:28:13

22. 1:31 – Darius makes it over to the café to update Frazier on what is going on. The information basically rehashes what we already know. This scene is more about Frazier and Darius continuing to establish the ground rules of their professional relationship. Darius asks Frazier if he's going to call the kidnapper (Dalton), but Frazier says it's not time. 0:29:44

23. 2:13 – Maddy and Arthur Case stroll through a park next to Hudson Bay while the camera tracks them. He wants her to retrieve something that's in a safe deposit box inside the bank. He says it's personal, but she knows it's dangerous, otherwise he'd have his own secretary get it. He gets defensive and calls her "young lady," but she doesn't care. She knows she has the upper hand. He says he doesn't want anybody to touch it. Eventually everybody does. 0:31:57

24. 0:16 – A short but important scene. "Steve" (a burly kidnapper played by Carlos Andres Gomez) is in the storage room (the one Dalton said was "beautiful") moving boxes off the racks against the far wall. Dalton comes in and asks, "Stevie?" "Steve" says it's time for "Steve-O." As Dalton leaves, "Steve" smashes a pick-axe into the floor. 0:32:13

25. 0:24 – The police find the van that the kidnappers used to transport themselves and their supplies to the bank. One of them mentions that it's probably stolen and they begin to sweep it for bugs, bombs, and prints. 0:32:37

26. 1:18 – Another intercut phone "conversation." Frazier decides it's time to call Dalton, but Dalton doesn't pick up. He only stares at the phone while it rings. As Frazier hangs up, one of the officers announces that they've downloaded the video from the surveillance cameras. They all gather round to watch as Dalton puts out the lights on the cameras. 0:33:55

27. 1:08 – Back to the interrogation room in the future. Miriam Douglas (Marcia Jean Kurtz), a middle-aged woman, cries as Frazier and Mitchell grill her. They really fuck with her hard, which shows how desperate they are. They have no idea which hostages were actually kidnappers who were part of Dalton's gang. 0:35:03

28. 1:10 – The kidnappers unlock the door and shove Vikram Walia (Waris Ahluwalia) out with a metal cash drawer tied around his neck. He's blindfolded and has his hands tied behind his back, but the cops surround him and yell at him to put his hands up anyway. He says (in a perfectly calm voice) that he can't. They push him down and snatch his turban off his head. For anybody who doesn't know, this is a huge offence to a Sikh. It's a dishonor to God. When he gets angry, they yell at him to calm down. This is part of Lee's MO. He likes to show people how prejudice affects us all. The cops assume that Vikram is a terrorist because he has a turban and a beard. 0:36:13

29. 1:43 – This scene was filmed in one shot. The camera follows Maddy into the mayor's office, then down the hall as he takes her into a private office, then circles them as they talk, and finally zooms to a close-up of a TV screen. The mayor seems very happy to see Maddy and discusses an upcoming charity benefit with her until they are alone, then drops the act. He asks, "what the fuck do you want?" and calls her a "magnificent cunt," which she takes as a compliment. She tells him she wants to get inside the bank and he promises to arrange it. Apparently she has him over a barrel. As she leaves, he turns to look at the television, which leads into the next scene. 0:37:56

30. 0:16 – Another reporting scene that recaps what we know so far. This story is about the van, to remind us that they found it. 0:38:12

31. 1:25 – Frazier and Mitchell grill Vikram in the café. This is real time. He has an ice-pack on his head and keeps asking for his turban. They tell him he'll get his turban when he answers some questions. He says he won't answer any questions until he gets his turban and explains about the offence to God. He says they called him an Arab. Darius denies this and says he didn't hear clearly because he was panicked. Lee really hates authority. At the end of all the mutual accusations, Vikram finally tells them there are four kidnappers and about twenty to thirty hostages. 0:39:37

32. 1:39 – The drawer that was hung around Vikram's neck contains a message. They place the drawer on a desk in the van, basically in the middle of their center of operations, and read the message. Dalton is demanding a jet and two buses. Frazier says he gets nothing until he answers the phone. Arthur Case shows up and offers to help. He pretends to be a doddering old man and tries to stay, so he can get inside information, but they throw him out. 0:41:16

33. 0:41 – There's activity at the bank. A gang of cops covers the doors while two kidnappers bring out a hostage with a note. One cop ventures up and snatches the note. "50 hungry people need food now." 0:41:57

34. 0:36 – Inside the van, Darius and Frazier discuss the request. A female cop says that pizza is best for transmitters, because they'll gather around the boxes and talk. Frazier says they get food because Dalton gave them a hostage (Vikram). 0:42:33

35. 1:14 – Inside the bank, one of the hostages takes off his mask and says, " Fuck this." He's a young guy. The other hostages tell him to be cooperative. A kidnapper bursts in and drags him by the feet out of the room. Now he's scared and tries to grab onto the other hostages. But Dalton has done his job well. They are too scared of him to help their fellow hostage. 0:43:47

36. 1:03 – Back to the interrogation room in the future. Chaim (Bernie Rachelle), a Jewish jeweler, explains that they were kept in separate rooms and couldn't hear the kidnappers. Frazier and Mitchell call him Steve and Steve-O and tell him not to lie. 0:44:50

37. 1:09 – They deliver the pizzas. Frazier accompanies them to the door and tells Dalton to "calm the fuck down." The only one who doesn't seem calm is Frazier. Then he introduces himself as the hostage negotiator. They size each other up. Even though Dalton is wearing sunglasses and a mask pulled up around his mouth and nose, you can tell he's looking carefully at Frazier. 0:45:59

38. 0:38 – Inside the van, the cops listen to the transmitters hidden in the pizza. Somebody is talking in some foreign language. Darius gets scared that he's going to have to "shoot it out with those savages." Spike Lee really doesn't think much of cops. Frazier calms him down and sends for a translator. 0:46:37

39. 1:36 – Now we see the beauty of Dalton's plan. He goes into one room of hostages with the female member of his team, who is holding a gun (an AK-47?), and drags out another hostage. He and the girl put the hostage into another room and go to a third room. Now he takes her gun and she starts to cry. He opens the room and shoves her in. So all the hostages in that room think that she is also a hostage. And in order to pull off this scheme effectively, he had to have had plants inside the bank posing as customers when he arrived with the other members of his team. Is this what the title means? 0:48:13

40. 1:22 – Back to the interrogation in the future. An Asian hostage identifies other hostages from Polaroid photos. He identifies "Stevie," the female kidnapper, as a hostage. Frazier asks if he's sure. He says he is because of her boobs. "You can't hide quality like that." The busty girl who upset the other customers with her loud cell-phone conversation (in scene #3) tells the story of the guy who took off his mask and was dragged out of the room. She notices that Mitchell is staring at her boobs. 0:49:35

41. 0:16 – It's worth watching the film for this scene. It starts with a shot of a pair of sweaty breasts inside a thin tank-top. If you can get your mind off this, you'll discover that they belong to the OTHER busty girl, the one Dalton calls "Stevie," and that she's pulling chunks of cement out of the hole in the floor of the storeroom. It is now very deep. 0:49:51

42. 1:59 – This takes place both inside and outside the van, so in terms of screenwriting and shooting, it's two scenes, but in terms of story, it's one scene. A Russian policeman listens to the conversation that's coming into the van through the pizza transmitters and says it's not Russian or Polish or Hungarian. Frazier broadcasts it through the loudspeakers and goes out to the crowd of onlookers, held back by the metal barricades. He asks if anybody can identify the language. One man, a construction worker, says it's Albanian. Frazier brings him in and then demands that he translate it. There's an exchange when Frazier claims that the man said he spoke it and he clarifies that he only recognizes it because his ex-wife speaks it. It's another of Lee's commentaries on the mentality of cops. Somebody also says that the van was stolen, but there are no prints on it. 0:51:47

43. 1:56 – Dalton goes to the vault where the kid is playing with his video game. Dalton has him separated from his father and the other hostages, but isn't being mean to him. He asks to see the video game, which is another Spike Lee special. It's called "Kill Dat Nigah" and it's a version of Grand Theft Auto with a lot more blood and violence (if that's possible). Dalton gives the kid pizza and tells him he'll be home soon. 0:53:43

44. 0:23 – The Albanian consulate wants money to send over a translator. The construction worker hates his ex-wife, but Frazier makes him call her. 0:54:06

45. 0:38 – Music swells dramatically as Dalton regards the money in the vault. "Stevie" stands guard with her "AK-47." 0:54:44

46. 1:52 – The ex-wife (Limary Agosto) shows up. She's sexy as hell, but a stone-cold bitch. She hands Mitchell a brown, paper bag full of parking tickets and pulls out some long cigarette. She speaks with a heavy (Albanian?) accent. Frazier asks her to translate the conversation. She points to the bag and says, "Parking tickets." He tells her it's taken care of. She smokes and shows off her long nails, then laughs and says it's a tape of the ex-president of Albania, who is dead. Frazier says last time he had his johnson pulled that good it cost him five dollars. The sexy ex-wife leaves. Mitchell states the obvious, that they knew the cops would bug them. Then he throws the bag of parking tickets in frustration. At least he got to do a bit of acting in this scene. 0:56:36

47. 1:31 – "Steve" eats pizza. On the table is a transmitter and an Ipod broadcasting the dead ex-president of Albania. Down in the safety deposit box room, "Stevie" picks the lock on box 392 and Dalton opens it. He removes an envelope, which reveals many little black velvet bags and a red jewelry box, the kind that usually holds a ring. He takes the envelope of documents and leaves behind the jewels. 0:58:07

48. 1:22 – The mayor shows up with Maddy and they invite Frazier into a limo. She rubs Frazier the wrong way and he's quite rude to her. She drops some broad hints about pay grades and disappearing paychecks to show that she's done her homework. He doesn't want to cooperate. 0:59:29

49. 1:42 – At the midpoint, Dalton and Frazier finally have their conversation. Frazier initiates the call, even though he said he wouldn't. They kid around about pina coladas and being Bubba's bitch in jail, and then get serious. Frazier tries to bully Dalton, but Dalton issues an ultimatum. Get that jet and those buses ready or else he'll start shooting hostages. 1:01:11

50. 0:44 – A crane shot down the street to find Maddy sitting at the window of the café that switches to a shot from behind her, looking out into the street to all the police activity. She's there for the duration. 1:01:55

51. 0:09 – "Steve-O" is working on the hole in the storage room. It's really deep. 1:02:04

52. 0:58 – In the interrogation room in the future, Frazier and Mitchell talk to "Steve," whose real name is Ken Demurjian. They ask him if his name is Albanian and how he knows they robbed the bank. He reminds Frazier that Frazier saw him gagged, which we haven't seen yet. 1:03:02

53. 2:22 – Frazier calls Dalton and stalls for time. Dalton wants his jet and buses now, but says he'll give Frazier more time if he answers a riddle. Which weighs more, the trains that pass through Grand Central Station or the trees cut down to make paper money. They both weigh the same because trains go to Grand Central Terminal and money is made from cotton. 1:05:24

54. 0:45 – Their argument echoes through the bank. Is it sound continued from the previous scene, or is it something else? Inside the rooms, the hostages exchange personal information. Inside the storage room, Dalton examines the deep hole. He says, "It's a good looking shithole." 1:06:09

55. 2:29 – Sunset. Frazier calls his girlfriend, who is home, out of uniform, and wearing a negligee. Then he talks to Maddy outside the café. This is how she talks: "What matters is what I can offer you." "If certain interests are protected." "Let's not get into any names." "I can't discuss that." She plays all her cards not just close to the vest, but practically inside the vest. Frazier allows her to go inside the bank and, surprise surprise, Dalton lets her in. 1:08:38

56. 3:14 – Dalton's people frisk Maddy and then lead her in. She tells him she can arrange a short sentence and two million dollars if he walks away. He refuses the deal and tells her he already knows about her interests. Arthur Case worked for the Nazis. He shows her the documents, which bear a swastika at the top. The ball is no longer in her court and she's thrown off-balance. She asks how he knew and he says it doesn't matter. There is no back-story on Dalton. He is an enigma. She asks how he plans to get away with this and he says he's going to walk right out the front door. 1:11:52

57. 2:05 – Outside the bank, Frazier demands to know what Dalton told Maddy, but she covers up her failure, which must sting a lot. Finally, Frazier gets her to tell him her impression of Dalton, why has he allowed them to push him into a corner like this? She say she thinks Dalton chose this corner. 1:13:57

58. 2:47 – In the interrogation room of the future, Frazier and Mitchell talk to the kid. They know he wasn't one of the kidnappers. They talk to Pablo/Paul, who has a rap sheet, but we know he wasn't a kidnapper. Chaim can get Frazier a deal on a wedding ring. "Stevie" notices them looking at her tits and shows them off. She asks if she's guilty of violating section thirty-four double D. 1:13:44

59. 1:45 – Frazier finally figures out that he's not stalling Dalton, they way a negotiator usually does with a kidnapper. Dalton is stalling him, playing for more time, and he can't figure out why. He calls Dalton and gets an invite inside. 1:18:29

60. 5:31 – Frazier tours through the rooms of hostages. At the end, Dalton says some of the misbehaved and shows him a separate room with people in gags and tied up. Peter Hammond is there with his bruises, and the guy who took off his mask and got dragged through the room. "Steve," Ken Demurjian, is also there, with his gag. Frazier and Dalton leave the hostages and share personal information. Frazier says he wants to get married and Dalton says money shouldn't be a problem. He also tells Frazier that when he's ready, he's going to walk right out the front door. As they leave, Frazier attacks Dalton and tries to get his mask off, but "Steve O" is there with her "AK-47" and they both regain control. Dalton is angry, but calm. 1:24:00

61. 0:38 – Frazier tells his team he has Dalton right where he wants him: "behind me with my pants down." "Steve-O" tells Dalton he's letting the cop get too close. Dalton asks how much longer. "Steve-O" says two or three hours. Are they doing more than digging a hole? 1:24:38

62. 1:04 – Frazier tells Darius that Dalton isn't a killer; he's got a game plan. Dalton calls Frazier and tells him to train the lights on the second floor window. As they all watch, he shoots a hostage in the head. The hostage has a white cloth over his head, but they see the shot and the blood. Frazier goes ballistic and runs out of the van to the bank. He's followed by one of those mini-cameras attached to the actor that keeps the face of the person steady while the background jumps around them. 1:25:42

63. 1:28 – Frazier comes to the door of the bank and yells at Dalton. Dalton says he wants two buses and a jet. Frazier asks him what he really wants. Dalton says he's too smart to be a cop and to get somebody sane. 1:27:10

64. 1:07 – Darius decides Frazier has lost it and makes a call to bring in another negotiator. 1:28:17

65. 1:48 – Darius decides he's going to move in with his own team. They spread out a blueprint and discuss tactics. As they talk, we see what they imagine will happen when they enter the bank. Some of the hostages will get shot, money will get shot and fly around. Somebody suggest rubber bullets that will stun, but not kill them. 1:30:05

66. 0:46 – Mitchell consoles Frazier on his failure. Frazier insists he's making Detective First Grade on this one. 1:30:51

67. 1:05 – Cut out of the action, Frazier goes to talk to Sgt. Collins, the beat cop who first reported the robbery. Collins got a gun stuck in his face and shot the kid. Now he's gun-shy because it wasn't a real gun. He says it was "annnn…African American." He almost said the "N" word, but realized Frazier is also black. Frazier chides him about using such terms and says you never know who might be listening. Then he gets that look like he just realized something. 1:31:56

68. 0:45 – Frazier bursts into the empty van and tears the metal drawer apart. Remember the drawer? It was tied around Vikram's neck and had a message. They left it in the van and it was on the table the whole time they were discussing strategy and what they knew and didn’t know. It had a bug in it. Frazier gets on the radio to Darius to tell him, but Darius is going in anyway. 1:32:41

69. 0:54 – Dalton is listening. "Stevie" runs in and he tells her to get everybody together. They use their guns to force the hostages out of the rooms and up into the main part of the bank. As the crowd panics and stampedes, "Steve," "Steve-O," and "Stevie" drop their guns and join them, beoming hostages again. 1:33:35

70. 2:05 – Outside the bank, it's morning. The cops are ready with their guns. There's an explosion inside and then the doors burst open. Smoke pours out, momentarily obscuring the hostages, and the cops start shooting them. But they're using rubber bullets. Some of the hostages are knocked out, and then the cops realize what's going on. They stop shooting. "Steve," "Steve-O," and "Stevie" look disheveled and distraught. "Stevie" is crying. 1:35:40

71. 3:43 – Inside the bank the camera moves in long, sweeping shots. The vault is secure and there's no missing money. There was no robbery. They find the cell-phones and the "AK-47's," which were toy guns. They can't find the magnum that was stuck in Collins' face. They decide that whoever did it is upstairs, sucking pavement. They also find the "dead hostage," which was a fake gun, a piece of white cloth, and a chamber to pump fake blood out. Nobody has been killed, nothing has been stolen, and some of the hostages are also kidnappers, but they don't know which ones. 1:39:23

72. 1:58 – Outside, they cuff the hostages, take their pictures, and get their names. Some of them protest. They don't understand the scam and don't want to go downtown to answer questions. They put them all on two police buses (how ironic; Dalton got his buses after all) and take them away. 1:41:21

73. 2:21 – Now the story catches up to itself. We have seen the pertinent sections of the interrogation throughout and skip ahead to the next part. Frazier tells the captain they can't ID the bad guys and the main perp (Dalton) and the magnum are gone. The Captain says to bury it. Apparently Maddy, and mayor, and Arthur Case have been pulling strings. And, by the way, the missing money in the check cashing scam showed up. 1:43:42

74. 0:30 – Frazier doesn't want to give up. He wants to solve the puzzle. He discovers safety deposit box 392 because there's no record of it 1:44:12

75. 2:12 – Frazier goes to the court building to get a search warrant. As he comes out, he finds Maddy White waiting for him. She tells him to let it go and he shows her a neat little pen that was in the police van. It's actually a mini-recorder and he recorded their conversation when she offered to get him promoted and he refused. Now both Dalton and Frazier have managed to trip her up. 1:46:24

76. 3:49 – But Maddy still has Arthur Case in her pocket. She tells him she knows about the diamonds and the Nazis. She's selling a co-op to Bin Laden's nephew (the Middle Eastern businessman, remember?) and she's putting Case down as a reference. That's how she does business. 1:50:13

77. 2:25 – Now we find out what the title really means. We hear voice over of Dalton's first speech: "My name is Dalton Russell, etc." And we see him packing up to leave his "cell." He opens one of the black velvet bags and removes a single diamond. Now there were about twenty of those bags in the safety deposit box, so how many did he take out? We also see flashbacks of them building the cell, which was constructed at the back of the storage room. They pulled the shelves out and built a false wall. The shithole was literally that. He brought in his own food, but it had to go somewhere. Outside, "Stevie," "Steve-O," "Steve," and Chaim are waiting in a car. So Chaim was one of the inside men, but Dalton was the real inside man. While they wait, they see Frazier entering the bank and call Dalton on his cell. He's not worried. 1:52:38

78. 0:55 – Dalton crosses to the exit just as Frazier comes in. He's wearing sunglasses: a different pair. He deliberately bumps into Frazier and says, "Excuse me." Frazier doesn't pay any attention. 1:53:33

79. 1:50 – Frazier is there with his warrant to open box 392. All the black velvet bags are gone, as is the envelope full of documents (of course). But Dalton has left the red ring case behind, some gum wrappers, and a note for Frazier. "Follow the ring." 1:55:23

80. 3:14 – Frazier pays a visit to Arthur Case, whose non-existent safety deposit box was the source of all this intrigue. He tells him he found out a few things and then asks if his cronies will vouch for him, "…after I find out the truth about this ring?" He hold the ring up on his middle finger, flipping Case off at the same time that he shows him the ring. 1:58:37

81. 0:20 – Mitchell and Frazier laugh about how Frazier got the best of Arthur Case. This was a completely useless scene. 1:58:57

82. 1:21 – Frazier interrupts Maddy and the mayor at lunch and gives her back the pen with the incriminating recording on it. He mentions the ring and says he's tracking it through the War Crimes office. Maddy knows she didn't win this one, but doesn't let the mayor see her vulnerability. 2:00:18

83. 1:55 – Frazier returns home, where his girlfriend is waiting in her negligee. She asks if he brought Big Willy and the Twins (I don't even want to know about that). He empties his pockets as he undresses and finds the diamond that Dalton was looking at before he left his cell. In a flashback, he remembers Dalton telling him that he's going to walk right out the front door and the man with the sunglasses who bumped into him on his way into the bank. He grins from ear to ear. Behind him, his girlfriend tells him the handcuffs are getting cold (still don't want to know) and the music comes up. 2:02:13


This story is all about plot and character. The dialogue is all expository, even though there are some memorable lines. "I'll walk out that door when I'm good and ready." "Pay strict attention." Maddy White's dialogue doesn't count because it's her job to be cagey with her words. Spike Lee seems to be more interested in inserting scenes that highlight prejudice and casual stupidity, rather than initiating interaction with any deeper meaning between his characters.

The characters themselves are good. And the structure is interesting. There are two protags, Frazier and Dalton, against two antags, Maddy and Arthur Case. At first Dalton seems like Frazier's antag, but he actually helps Frazier achieve his goal. Maddy and Case are the real bad guys, with Case being the main one. You can tell because the final show-down scene is not between Frazier and Dalton. It's between Frazier and Case. And we know Frazier has won because he gets to flip Case off under the pretext of showing him the ring.

There are 83 scenes that average 1 minute and 28 seconds long. Only 17 of them are over 2 minutes. 30 of them are less than a minute. Lee keeps his action going with short, concise glimpses of the story.

It also showcases an international cast, with the actors coming from all nationalities. Part of this is because the story is set in New York, which is a melting pot of ethnicities, but most of it is because Spike Lee is very interested in getting some color into predominantly white Hollywood. He's got an axe to grind, but he knows the value of telling a good story while he's doing it.


Mim said...

Oh wow! Awesome clips, MM. It's hard to convey how great that song was with mere words. I also found a few mistakes I made. The scene I thought was one shot actually had cuts in it. Oh well.

The hook in this film is perfectly placed. Once you see and hear Dalton, and then the opening titles start, you're primed to watch.

Laura Deerfield said...

Man, I wish blogger had a "cut" feature...

... will read this later in the week when I have time.

Joshua James said...

excellent . . . the only minor quibble I would have is the tendency to say that "Lee tells us" and "Lee means" as tho' Lee were the author of the story . . . Lee directed the movie, but he didn't write it.

I say that with much love to Spike, an Oscar nominated scribe in his own right, but he didn't write this movie . . .

other than that, a great breakdown and I thoroughly enjoyed this . . .

Mim said...

The writer writes the story and the cinematographer recommends the camera shots, but it's up to the director how he wants to present it. He is the last one to "touch" it. Trust me. It's definitely Spike Lee showing and telling us these things. He assembled a team of people who would help him present HIS vision, not show their own.

Joshua James said...

Right, but it's not HIS story . . . he didn't author it, merely shot it . . . the fact that the story jibes with his personal politics (what we know of them, anyway) is besides the point.

I'm being nitpicky, of course, it is an excellent breakdown . . .
But I commend you on pointing out that there are two protags and the big reveal is exactly that . . . they're not protag and antog, etc . . .

but you have many instances where you mention things like, "Spike really doesn't like cops", which I find interesting in that, again he didn't write it and also, the hero is a police detective.

He didn't write it, though . . . he's not the author of it . . . the fact he chose to present some scenes in his fashion or cut others doesn't change the fact that Spike didn't write it.

There are some rather interesting articles out there about the screenwriter, if I recall, and how he came up with the story.

If another director directed this script, it would have essentially the same discoveries . . . they would be presented in different ways, perhaps, and if Sidney Lument or Sydney Pollack directed them, a different flavor - but I maintain that they would be essentially the same story and the same movie . . .

Writers are authors . . . . directors are presenters of the stories . . .

Lee tells us stuff only because someone wrote down a scene for him to tell . . .

Now Lee is a great writer, and when he does write a scene (HE GOT GAME, for instance) you know it's in his voice . . . this movie, which dealt with themes and ideas and a location obviously dear to Lee's heart, which explains why he chose to direct it, does not have that voice . . . it has the voice of another writer . . . and with all due respect, I feel it belittles the good job that writer did on that script by assigning authorship to Lee.

I'd bet Lee would say the same . . .

Joshua James said...

Again, I'm really being nitpicky about the issue (tho' I do believe that the authorship issue is not a small one) and would like to say again how much I enjoyed your very thorough and thought-out analysis . . . truly great stuff.

Mim said...

Having worked with two directors on scripts that I wrote at their request, I have to say that Lee is truly the author of the film. The writer is only the author of the script.

I'm a screenwriter. I don't harbor any illusions about ever directing movies.

Joshua James said...

Having worked with two directors on a couple scripts myself, one of which is an adaptation of a book which I adapted as per their request, I can honestly say otherwise . . . but that's me, we can agree to disagree . . .

Maybe someday I'll get a chance to ask Spike myself - I hope too, anyway . . .

Mim said...

I don't mind agreeing to disagree, but that's pretty much why I'm studying directors, not writers. Part of what makes a great director is choosing a great script and working with the writer to put his own stamp on it.

Some directors, like Ron Howard, work with the same writers on nearly every film. If you look on IMDB, many of the "great" directors also have writing credit on their scripts.

I think part of being a successful writer is being able to collaborate with the director who is going to turn your script into a movie. We've all heard stories of writers who get cut out of the production and another writer is brought in to "give their script a final polish." In a lot of cases, you can argue that it's because of ego, but sometimes don't you think it might be because the writer doesn't want to make certain changes.

Of course, sometimes those changes would harm the story. The famous case of Simon Birch, which started out as A Prayer for Owen Meany, comes to mind. John Irwin had successfully worked on two of his other novels to turn them into scripts. He just ran up against a director who wanted to do things with his novel that he felt would harm the story.

He was right, of course, which is why the title was changed. It was the only bit of power he was able to wield. The property was already sold and the contracts were already signed. Bummer for John.

It's the directors who have power in Hollywood, and very rarely the writers. We write and sell at their whim. The story starts out as ours, but it ends up as theirs.

Joshua James said...

No doubt screenwriters are disempowered, which is one reason I celebrate this blog (and Unk's) for highlighting the contribution of screenwriters and the value of doing what they do and how well they do it . . . hopefully it will inspire a cool revolution . . . I direct as well as write, and I think every aspect of it should be studied . . .

It's not just that a director choses a story to direct, but also a writer at some point chooses to write it . . . Kaufmann originally wrote BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, according to what I heard, because he fantasized about cheating on his wife . . . he wrote that to get it out of his system . . . he's also been fortunate to work with directors who get him . . . but those directors have also been fortune that Charlie decided to write screenplays . . .

And I would note that many writer-directors are nominated for Oscars because it's one way of protecting the script . . .

The thing is, if no one wrote anything, the directors wouldn't have a whole lot to do . . .

BTW, have you read John Irving's book called MY MOVIE BUSINESS where he discusses adapting CIDER HOUSE RULES? Great book, and fast, too.

The less said about SIMON BIRCH, the better . . . it's always a wonder that a director believes they know more about a book than the novelist who actually wrote it . . .

Mickey Lee said...


Great work! I really enjoyed this. One thing I liked about "The Inside Man" was that it had this very loose feel, and yet, not a wasted scene. It's been my impression that Spike Lee does a much better job telling other people's stories than he does when he's a writer/director.

I should probably know better, but just to weigh in on the discussion....

I agree with Miriam as far as the authorship of a film is concerned. The director is the number one indicator of how the film is going to turn out.

People go on and on about Charlie Kaufman, but let's not forget that Spike Jonze has a unique visual style that was paired with Kaufman's zany scripts for a reason. And Kaufman is also referred to ad nauseum because he is a very unique case. There's very few screenwriters that have star power. In fact, he may be the only one.

I'll analogize like this: There's this book that my 2 year old son loves, "Hop on Pop" by Dr. Seuss. Seuss is the author, as we all know.

Daddy reads the story, and although he gives it the old college try, it's a fairly dry performance.

Mommy reads the story, makes all the funny voices, sing songs the lines, etc. Who do you think my son chooses to read the book for him every night?

In each case, neither one of us wrote the material, but it was Mommy's power as a storyteller that carried the day for our son. She's the director.

And let's not forget how much of the "writing" is actually done in the editing room, long after the film is in post-production. You wanna guess who's standing over the editor's shoulder? I'll give ya a hint, it's not the writer.

One of the reasons that writers, such as Kaufman, decide to become directors is because they are tired of being shut out of the storytelling process. Everyone's interpretation of a script is different -- just one peak at the reviews on TS can tell you that -- so writers that have moved up higher on the food chain are happy to grab the director's hat and not let any more of their puppies get killed.

crossword said...

Most excellent! I've started to scrawl these myself on occasion whenever I see a film but I feel bad about publishing any of them because they're Mim's gig, ya know?

But the ones here and out on TS are very thoughtful and revealing. Quite unique.

Mim said...

Thanks, Mickey Lee. I had quite forgotten about the script to screen breakdown of Taxi Driver that MM put me up to. The most noticeable difference is that the scenes in the film are put together in a completely different order than on the page.

Did Scorsese shoot it "in order" and then re-cut it? Or did he ask Schraeder to reorganize it during the pre-production re-write?

And, Len, if you want to do one of these, I would love to read it. I'd like to see another perspective on one of these, even if it's a different film.

crossword said...

I'd like to see another perspective on one of these, even if it's a different film.

Okey-doke, Mim you're on! I have about 400 DVDs so will have to ponder and select, watch and then scribble :)

Mystery Man said...

Hey guys,

I've pointedly stayed out of this discussion, because DARNIT, I've been working on a "Directing the Director" article. And I want to get this article out before we start the exposition study next month. I've got A LOT to say on this subject.


Mystery Man said...

Oh, and Len, I'll be happy to post any breakdown studies you do.

I also plan on doing my own script-to-screen study of a favorite film of mine. It's my first! I'm excited.


crossword said...

Oh, and Len, I'll be happy to post any breakdown studies you do.
Thanks MM. :)

I also plan on doing my own script-to-screen study of a favorite film of mine. It's my first! I'm excited.

Mim said...

Ooohhh. Directing the Director. Sounds intriguing.

And more film breakdowns to come. Hooray!

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