Inside

on August 25, 1996 by Kevin Courrier
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   Arthur Penn once built his reputation and career on making the kinds of daring and ambiguous films that constantly shifted our expectations and moral values. Movies like "The Left-Handed Gun," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Alice's Restaurant" and (at least parts of) "Little Big Man" were some of the liveliest American films that helped define what became the counterculture. Who would have thought that, with the political drama "Inside," Penn would make the kind of narrow-minded movie that his earlier work not only transformed but also transcended?
   The film begins in South Africa in the days during apartheid; a university professor, Marty Strydom (Eric Stoltz), who's a member of a privileged white family, is arrested during an Amnesty concert and charged with treason. His interrogator, Colonel Kruger ("The Madness of King George's" Nigel Hawthorne), is dedicated to breaking Strydom into a confession. This part of "Inside" is wedded to a scene set years later in the new South Africa when Kruger has to face his crimes; he is interrogated by a black officer (Louis Gossett Jr.) who also was a prisoner once himself under Kruger.
   The black/white parallels don't just extend themselves to the skin color of the protagonist. The whole affair lays out each side so methodically, and so painstakingly, it's like "Death and the Maiden" on quaaludes. Hawthorne plays Kruger's racism as pure hambone evil (he needs only a moustache to twirl). Stoltz tries to give a thoughtful performance, and at times he's touching, as when he reads a forged letter from his girlfriend thinking that she has rejected him. But his scenes are conceived so one-dimensionally that our concern for him comes more out of basic human compassion. And Gossett seems only to be competing with Hawthorne for scenery to chew. Starring Nigel Hawthorne, Eric Stoltz and Louis Gossett Jr. Directed by Arthur Penn. Written by Bima Stagg. Produced by Hillard Elkins, Louis Gossett Jr., and Dan Paulson. Drama. A Strand release. Unrated. Running time: 94 min. Screened at the Toronto fest.
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