Watching a single actor on screen for almost two hours requires a few things. One thing it obviously requires is a strong central performance that can hopefully rope you in from start to finish. The next thing is requires is a premise that hooks you. Finally, you absolute need the filmmakers involved to execute the material in such a way that you never feel frustrated. Unfortunately, while Inside has the first box checked, it struggles with the second one, while utterly failing with the third. Ultimately, the movie never makes a compelling case for its own existence.
Inside has a strong actor acting his ass off, but the film never gives him enough to do. Whatever early intrigue the premise possesses, it wears off in short order. So, you focus in on the leading man, hoping that just sheer acting talent will rule the day. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end up being what rules the day. Instead, it winds up being nothing more than boredom.
Nemo (Willem Dafoe) is a high-end art thief who, along with a small team, is planning a heist in a luxurious Manhattan penthouse. They’ve painstakingly planned it, but no sooner does Nemo get in, than things go wrong. Not only is the painting he’s there for nowhere in sight, he winds up locked inside of the apartment. Locked in, with nothing but priceless works of art and a few morsels of food, his team abandons him, setting the thief up for a bitter end.
Assessing his situation, Nemo quickly begins to use his mind to make the most of this gilded cage. Many of the facilities are shut off, the food is running low, and there’s a temperature issue, it all appears bleak. However, the more he fights against what seems like the inevitable, the more Nemo finds ways to keep going. To what end, however? Well, that remains to be seen…
Willem Dafoe does his best to lift up the material. He’s very good here, though there’s only so much he can do. Few actors have a more watchable face than Dafoe, so watching him contemplate his situation is compelling, though only for so long. Once it becomes clear that this is just what we’re watching, boredom sets in that even he can’t resolve. He’s a good tortured soul, but that can only go so far. This is basically a one man show, but there are small parts for Gene Bervoets, Andrew Blumenthal, Eliza Stuyck, and more.
Co-writer/director Vasilis Katsoupis has a vision for Inside, but along with writer Ben Hopkins, he simply can’t find it. Having Willem Dafoe on hand papers over some of these issues, but it’s hard not to watch what Katsoupis and Hopkins have cooked up and think it’s half baked. Pretentious and repetitive, the admittedly interesting visual language from Katsoupis never amounts to enough. Early on, you give them the benefit of the doubt. Before long, however, it becomes clear that you’re just in for a long haul with this story.
Inside has a lot of ideas it’s playing with, but the execution is so one-note it’s hard to care. Whatever the intent might be, it doesn’t come across. Aside from Willem Dafoe, there’s just nothing really to grab onto. It’s all the more disappointing, too, since Dafoe is quite good and otherwise could have had a top-notch one man show to go to town on. Instead, he has this frustrating misfire.