Watching The Third Man for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of déjà vu. Anyone who has ever read anything about film noir is going to recognize Orson Welles’ first dramatic appearance, the scene of the Ferris wheel, the chase sequence through the sewers, the line about the cuckoo clock, and the beautifully odd zither score. Often, that kind of familiarity makes actually watching the film in question anticlimactic, but that wasn’t the case for me with The Third Man.
The Kronos Quartet and Wu Man, pipa, at Carnegie Hall on Friday, April 7.
I had never heard of the pipa before I attended this concert given by the Kronos Quartet and pipa player Wu Man, but I immediately recognized the sound of the lute-like instrument from countless Asian-themed movies. Part of the joy of the concert, however, was hearing Wu Man play the instrument as part of nontraditional compositions, music that doesn’t immediately bring to mind a watercolor image of a delicate woman in a silk cheongsam.
Inside Man opens with a long shot of an old-fashioned roller coaster. The roller coaster, of course, is a familiar metaphor for the thriller, so the shot (accompanied, oddly, by a jaunty Bollywood number) reads like a promise of high-tension and a truly spectacular climax.
The movie certainly has its share of twists, but it never builds enough energy or momentum to be a roller coaster. The pleasure of Inside Man is the details, the quirks that make it a Spike Lee joint rather than a generic heist pic.