"Cats die. Music fades. But art is for keeps."
No one will ever deny the talents of Willem Dafoe. Throughout his career, which now spans five decades, the actor has accrued an impressive list of projects: 1989's Born on the Fourth of July, 1997's Speed 2: Cruise Control, 2000's American Psycho, 2002's Spider-Man, 2009's Antichrist, and 2019's The Lighthouse are just a few of his highly regarded works. He's earned four Oscar nominations. Inside is, without a moment's hesitation, his vanity project. I say this with admiration. The film, directed by Vasilis Katsoupis, is quite good.
In the film, Nemo (Dafoe), a high-end art thief, finds himself trapped inside a New York City penthouse after a highly orchestrated heist becomes foiled by a technological mishap. As the thermostat sends heat from the air ducts and the temperature rises, time becomes of the essence. Surrounded by nothing but priceless works of art and two saltwater fish tanks, our thief must create an escape. If not, Neo will die within the home, a formidable cage to its unexpected inhabitant.
Except for a few limited flashback sequences, Dafoe's Nemo is alone on the screen for the film's duration. The story is entirely his. And while the cameras never venture outside the expensive, luxurious apartment he is attempting to rob, and he rarely shares his inner thoughts, the effects of his time alone, continually looking for food and water, speaks loudly from the rafters, ricocheting off the high ceilings and tile flooring.
In this way, Inside works beautifully, encapsulating the destructing mental state of an otherwise brilliant man, a metaphor for his external being as he must destroy and sacrifice invaluable, prized works of art to survive. Methodically navigating the space, Nemo works relentlessly to create a plan that will allow him on the other side of the unbreakable window panes that have him cornered. Though our view is always partial, Dafoe maintains your attention throughout, effectively daring you to look away and miss a vital piece to this chic, sophisticated puzzle.
And that is what Inside is: an expensive, highly exclusive puzzle that toys with viewers' morals as they form an emotional tie to a criminal. Dafoe brilliantly embraces the moment, uniquely appealing to your heart as you pity him and his predicament. It isn't until after the credits roll that you again realize that the plight directly results from Nemo's self-indulgence and greed.
As the film progresses and Nemo's physical appearance begins to show distress amid his time locked inside the once elusive residence, a plan slowly takes shape. While Katsoupis never gives away much and hits his main protagonist with a slew of mental and physical obstacles, there are only two possible outcomes for this tightly wound, claustrophobic story.
Much like Tom Hanks in 2000's Castaway, the journey is most of the ride. And there are, as one would expect, several questions. Katsoupis and co-writer Ben Hopkins craft a script that addresses many, but life outside the high-rise is a distant thought. And that's okay. This snapshot is well-poised and beautifully layered. And much like the pieces Nemo longs to take for himself, the film is a lavish work of art. And though the price tag remains unknown, its finished product will undoubtedly appeal to a very particular buyer.