Vet helmer Arthur Penn and two powerful lead performances lend stark force to parts of Inside, though Bima Stagg’s somewhat awkwardly structured screenplay stretches credibility at times. Another anti-apartheid drama largely focused on a sympathetic white protagonist, pic is a provocative if flawed chamber piece.
At the outset, 30-year-old Afrikaaner Peter Martin Strydom (Eric Stoltz) already has been beaten and tortured, but as yet denies any alleged ‘conspiracy to commit treason, sabotage and terrorism.’ Interrogating Col. Krueger (Nigel Hawthorne) deploys a wicked array of tactics to encourage Marty’s confession and the naming of any fellow ‘conspirators.’ He feeds the prisoner possibly bogus information about his girlfriend, father, and the alleged civilian-death consequences of his accused arms-hiding on behalf of freedom fighters.
Ten years later, the colonel reviews these events – under the unforgiving gaze of his own ‘Questioner’ (Louis Gossett Jr) investigating the former regime’s human-rights crimes in a new, post-apartheid era. Put in the hot seat himself for a change, the colonel remains a model of cool hypocrisy and denial – to a point.
Penn, lenser Jan Weincke and the production designers do a terrific job exploiting the claustrophobia of the central action, which takes place entirely in the colonel’s office and one dank cell block, with p.o.v shots through prisoners’ peepholes particularly effective.
Stoltz vividly portrays his figure’s steady mental and physical disintegration. But pic’s strongest suit is held by Hawthorne, with his meticulously faked empathy and icy, sarcastic lack of conscience.