Directed by Spike Lee, starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Willem Dafoe.

Spike Lee directing a heist movie? It's not a combination that instantly springs to mind. But, building on the more mainstream appeal of 2003's '25th Hour', Lee has created a satisfying genre film with a political edge.

Another pen-pushing day turns out to be anything but for NYPD hostage negotiator Keith Frazier (Washington) and his partner Bill Mitchell (Ejiofor). Called to a siege at a bank in the financial district, the detectives discover that this is not a run-of-the-mill hold-up. Why are the gang stalling for time? How can they anticipate the NYPD's every move? Why has the mayor foisted a high society fixer (Foster) upon Mitchell? And why is the Chair of the bank's board (Plummer) so desperate that his safety deposit box should remain unopened?

From the moment Owen's heist leader Dalton Russell appears on screen - to deliver a monologue about who, what, where, when and why - Lee's film sets itself up as a fast-paced and engrossing study of an attempt at the ultimate heist. And it doesn't disappoint. While the plot is far-fetched, 'Inside Man' offers enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. To reveal any more about the robbery would be to spoil the plot, suffice to say it is - and isn't - about money and, like '25th Hour', Lee works in post-11 September themes during the stand-off.

Owen fans, like Washington's, will find plenty to savour here, his ice cold robber having some good verbal jousts with Washington's wise-cracking cop. As for Foster, like Plummer and Dafoe, her performance is more supporting than scene-stealing, but there are memorable scenes involving each.

As perfect scores go, this is well above average.

Harry Guerin