I suppose there’s no good time to release The International these days. After all, who wants to watch a movie about corrupt banks that siphon money for nefarious purposes at the expense of their clients? Sounds a lot like real life to me. While the subject matter does hit a little too close to home with today’s headlines, the film is a taut and engrossing suspense thriller that can seemingly pull suspense out of thin air. This is the kind of movie (it’s actually made for adults!) that I thought was near extinction.
As the film opens, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen) is on a recon mission in Berlin. His target is the IBBC, a powerful European bank that Salinger has linked to numerous illegal activities that include arms trading and money laundering. It’s the kind of place where, if anyone talks, they are dispatched of in an “accidental” kind of way. Salinger’s partner is Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Watts), who is under fire from her boss (James Rebhorn) to get something, anything, substantial on the bank. He is also acutely aware of the politics at play. Salinger and Whitman span the globe to uncover the truth, and the stakes in the business of war couldn’t be higher.
Director Tom Tykwer really takes hold of this story and delivers a good old-fashioned suspense film. They’ve been a rare commodity basically for this entire decade, and The International succeeds because it knows the stakes and screenwriter Eric Singer puts those stakes on the page with intelligence and realism. Many will say the movie is convoluted and too complicated – and it is – but banking is an industry that thrives on complexity, arrogance, and under-the-table dealings. The centerpiece of The International is one of the best shootouts in years, taking place at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
Clive Owen carries the film on charisma alone. Salinger is a sophisticated and efficient agent, and Owen conveys his determination in a very effective performance. Naomi Watts is given the more thankless role as a lawyer whose boss always wants answers. Fantastic supporting roles are turned in by veteran Armin Mueller-Stahl and Ulrich Thomsen, the cunning executive at the IBBC.
The International was originally slated to be released last August (when the economic situation, unbelievably, seemed better than it is now) but was delayed to shoot more action scenes. Now the economy is in the tank and I doubt many people are going to be in the mood for this story of greed and corruption. Real life aside, The International is a compelling and suspenseful thriller that features one of the best shootouts of the decade.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 118 Minutes
Rating: R for some sequences of violence and language.
Theatrical Release: February 13, 2009
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
Written by: Eric Singer
Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brian F. O’Byrne, Michel Voletti