It all starts out simply enough: four people dressed in painters' outfits march into the busy lobby of Manhattan Trust, a cornerstone Wall Street branch of a worldwide financial institution. Within seconds, the costumed robbers place the bank under a surgically planned siege, and the 50 patrons and staff become unwitting pawns in an airtight heist.
NYPD hostage negotiators Detectives Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are dispatched to the scene with orders to establish contact with the heist's ringleader, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), and ensure safe release of the hostages. Working alongside Emergency Services Unit (ESU) Captain John Darius (Willem Dafoe), all are hopeful that the situation can be peacefully diffused and that control of the bank and release of those inside can be secured in short order.
But things don't progress as planned. Russell proves an unexpectedly canny opponentclever, calm and totally in commanda puppet master with a meticulous plan to disorient and confuse not only the hostages, but also the authorities. Outside, the crowd of New Yorkers grows as the situation becomes increasingly tense, with Frazier's superiors becoming more concerned about his ability to keep the standoff from spiraling out of control.
The robbers appear to consistently be one step ahead of the police, outwitting Frazier and Mitchell at every turn. Frazier's suspicions that more is at work than anyone perceives are justified with the entry of Madeline White (Jodie Foster), a power player with shadowy objectives, who requests a private meeting with Russell. The chairman of the bank's board of directors, controlling entrepreneur Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), is also uniquely interested in the moment-to-moment happenings inside the branch.
But just what are the robbers after? Why has nothing worked to alleviate the standoff, which stretches on hour after hour? Frazier is convinced that invisible strings are being pulled and secret negotiations are taking place as the powder keg situation grows more unstable by the moment. With loyalties and motives called into question, the detective engages in a risky game of cat-and-mousebut with the rules of the game ever changing, one wrong move may take the volatile match closer to a disastrous and deadly conclusion.
Joining Lee behind the camera is a cadre of cinema craftsmenmany of whom have previously collaborated with the filmmakerincluding director of photography Matthew Libatique, ASC (Requiem for a Dream), production designer Wynn Thomas (Cinderella Man), editor Barry Alexander Brown (Do the Right Thing) and composer Terence Blanchard (Malcom X). Inside Man is executiveproduced by Daniel M. Rosenberg (Novocaine), Jon Kilik (25th Hour), Karen Kehela Sherwood (A Beautiful Mind) and Kim Roth (Insomnia).