2009 | Director: Tom Tykwer (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer)| Writer: Eric Singer
The International features as its centerpiece a magnificent shootout in the Guggenheim Museum, a ten-minute-long, perfectly-edited sequence in which three different parties shred the famed locale with bullets as attendees cower in fear. It’s everything an action scene should be: brief bursts of awe-inducing sound and fury interspersed with tension-escalating pauses as participants reload and vie warily for position. But when highlighted against the rest of the film, a leadenly, frustrating exercise in espionage thriller-hood, the Guggenheim scene becomes one more “what could have been” moment in the directorial career of Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), a man previously accused of favoring style over substance. Unfortunately, it looks as though he listened to his critics, because, bright spots aside, The International is about as listlessly substantial as a film about bankers can be.
The ever-glowering Clive Owen stars as Interpol agent Lou Salinger, a man hot on the trail of the fictitious International Bank of Business and Credit, a massive organization with ties to illegal arms brokerage, extortion, and murder. When Salinger’s partner dies under mysterious circumstances early on, Salinger and New York Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) pull out every trick in the book to bring the untouchable men at the top of IBBC to justice. Cue creepy piano music and people speaking in muted tones about debt and international law. Is the film as boring as I’m making it sound? Kind of.
Owen, for one, acquits himself nicely as a man obsessed with the downfall of IBBC, injecting every scene he inhabits with immediacy and desperation. Despite the intense look burned into his face, Owen’s is also the most subtle performance in The International: he actively shakes with fearful adrenaline during breaks between gunfire in the Guggenheim, and never once does he exude the air of an invincible action hero. But Owen consistently brings a slow burn to every role he fills; comparatively, bad guy Ulrich Thomsen hisses like a man who eats live kittens for brunch, and Watts sighs and tilts her head like a high school drama class reject. Needless to say, command of actors may not be Tykwer’s strong suit.
Over-ambition isn’t necessarily fatal in filmic genres like sci-fi or horror, but in The International that aspiration plays out as indecisiveness. It wants to be two things at once—Bourne-like actioner and intelligent current-affairs expose—forcing its globetrotting scenes together like ill-fitting pieces of a puzzle no one wants to see completed. It’s not that the movie is unnecessarily dull—it’s that the movie is necessarily dull, thanks to its worn-out message about not trusting the evil suits who play with our money. Doesn’t everyone know by now that corporate entities are run by an infinite procession of amoral people? The least Tykwer could do while coming to that conclusion is throw a few more stylish gunfights in along the way.
Rating: Two of Five Stars