Director : Tom Tykwer
Screenplay : Eric Warren Singer
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Clive Owen (Louis Salinger), Naomi Watts (Eleanor Whitman), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Wilhelm Wexler), Ulrich Thomsen (Jonas Skarssen), Brian F. O’Byrne (The Consultant), Michel Voletti (Viktor Haas), Patrick Baladi (Martin White), Jay Villiers (Francis Ehames), Fabrice Scott (Nicholai Yeshinski), Haluk Bilginer (Ahmet Sunay), Luca Giorgio Barbareschi (Umberto Calvini), Alessandro Fabrizi (Inspector Alberto Cerutti), Felix Solis (Detective Iggy Ornelas), Jack McGee (Detective Bernie Ward)
While The International has had the misfortune of being released during a massive banking crisis, with televised images of button-down CEOs sitting before Congress asking for money doing little to perpetuate the image of diabolical world-domination, it is still a relatively engaging, if not terribly convincing, variant on the evil corporation thriller, which has witnessed a massive resurgence in recent years. Go figure. Despite all the post-9/11 political rhetoric that has strained so hard to pinpoint identifiable sources of evil in the world that can be either bombed or arrested, it seems that more and more we are simply feeling overwhelmed with the massive ambiguity of it all, with globalization ensuring that virtually everyone has at one time or another contributed to something nefarious, willingly or otherwise.
Heady stuff, to be sure, and The International certainly strains at every corner to convince the audience that it’s a serious paranoid cautionary tale, with its careful mixing of cloak-and-dagger theatrics (the film opens with a mysterious murder in the middle of a busy street) and righteous-sounding dialogue about the nature of truth and the importance of exposing corruption lest it become forever rooted (some cynics might say it already is). To this end, Clive Owen and Naomi Watts adopt a perpetual state of dourness as Louis Salinger, a former Scotland Yard detective-turned-Interpol agent, and Eleanor Whitman, a crusading assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Both have insanely cluttered offices that demonstrate how hard they labor in tracking the nefarious trails of corruption around the world, and they’re both working against their own colleagues, who doubt their “wild” conspiracy theories.
Of course, as is true with all such movies, the paranoid are usually right, and Salinger is right-on in his assessment of the Luxembourg-based International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC), which is based loosely on the Pakistani-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which was mired in scandal in the early 1990s. The IBBC, which is the fifth largest bank in the world and is run by the handsome and soulless Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen), is really a massive power broker with its fingers in Chinese weapons manufacturing, the Middle East crisis, and various Third World revolutions. Thus, first-time screenwriter Eric Warren Singer gives Salinger and Eleanor plenty to do during the film’s two hours, jetting them among at least six major world cities, including Manhattan, Berlin, and Milan, where they meet with shady executives, are frustrated time and time again by police investigators who are clearly on the take, and attempt to track down an elusive assassin.
The assassin subplot leads to the film’s most dynamic sequence: a massive shoot-out in Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum, whose six-story spiral was quite convincingly recreated on a German soundstage. As an action setpiece, it’s a genuine stunner, not just because of the glass-shattering pyrotechnics that turn a landmark architectural marvel into Swiss cheese, but because the museum’s lack of right angles creates a vertiginous sense of exposure at all times. However good it is, though, the sequence feels woefully out of place, an obvious sop to those audience members who desire spontaneous combustion over slow burn. The sequence also makes virtually no sense in that the IBBC has maintained its power by stealthy means when it comes to offing their adversaries (fake heart attacks, car accidents, etc.), so the idea that they would suddenly employ an entire cadre of machine-gun-wielding thugs in a public arena strains credulity.
Director Tom Tykwer, who first made a splash a decade ago with the hyperkinetic Run Lola Run (1999), gives The International a stylish gleam that is never too showy, and his longtime cinematographer Frank Griebe has a special way with shooting famous locations. Because of the international scope of the malevolence, the film needs its globe-trotting space, even though it constantly threatens to turn into a pretty travelogue. Thankfully, Clive Owen is on hand with his unshaven chops and constant look of moral grimace to remind us that the world’s most fabulous locations are but facades for evil dealings and that the individual, however determined, is always at a loss in the face of international corporate malice.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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