'When there's blood on the streets, buy property.' This sturdy piece of advice becomes a refrain in Spike Lee's new movie, Inside Man, where it is ludicrously literalised by the attempt of a bin Laden nephew to purchase an apartment in Manhattan, and grimly moralised in the story of an American banker who made a fortune by trading with the Nazis, and indeed by trading on the suffering of the Jews. That's why he has so many diamonds in his safe deposit box, along with documentation of his ugly past. The diamonds are the basis of his empire, but why has he kept the documentation? This simple flaw in a clever plot (the movie is written by Russell Gewirtz) has bothered many viewers of this film, but there are two good reasons for not worrying about it. First, this is only a movie, as Hitchcock told Ingrid Bergman when she was trying too hard to act like a real person; and second, some people know about the banker's misdeeds even before they've seen the documentation. If we needed a third reason, we could find one in Christopher Plummer, who plays the evil banker and is so securely installed in the stereotype of the suave rich fellow that the only Nazis he could possibly have met would have come from central casting.
LRB 11 May 2006 | PDF Download