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International, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"So Much For Spurning The Dust"
2 stars

Like anyone with a new thriller to flog in the marketplace, I suspect that the creators of “The International” would be thrilled if the reviews described it as being Hitchcockian in tone. As a matter of fact, while watching the film, I did find myself thinking of one of the past works of the late Master of Suspense, though not one his classics like “The Man Who Knew Too Much” or “North by Northwest.” No, the film I was thinking about was his poorly received 1965 Paul Newman-Julie Andrews Cold War espionage drama “Torn Curtain.” Like that film, it tells an increasingly silly story that is both insultingly simplistic and maddeningly confusing to anyone crazy enough to try to follow along with it. Also like that film, it features two talented and charismatic stars who have curiously been given sketchily-drawn people to play and who never seem particularly comfortable with their characters or the surrounding film. And like “Torn Curtain,” which is only remembered today for a grisly set-piece in which Newman discovers just how hard it is to kill somebody in a quiet manner, it features an extended centerpiece sequence that is so dazzlingly constructed and executed that it almost makes up for the rest of the nonsense on display all by itself. Therefore, I find myself at a bit of a quandary--do I recommend that you see the film simply for that sequence and force you to endure 105 minutes of flat-out stupidity in order to see those amazing 15 minutes or do I tell you to avoid it and cause you to miss a mini-masterpiece of action filmmaking? Hopefully by the end of this review, I will have some kind of answer for you.

Vaguely inspired by some real-life scandals involving the former Bank of Credit and Commerce International, “The International” stars Clive Owen as Louis Salinger, an Interpol investigator who is obsessed with exposing the evil machinations of the International Bank of Business and Credit, a multinational bank that he believes is involved in money laundering, arms dealing, assassinations and charging ridiculous fees for non-members wishing to use their ATM machines. Of course, he has never been able to prove these accusations over the years thanks to the bank’s influence over governmental officials and the tendency for whistleblowers to mysteriously pass away just before revealing some crucial piece of information (although you would think that the fact that their Luxembourg headquarters appear to have been designed by the same architect responsible for all the secret lairs owned by the villains in the James Bond films might suggest to someone that they weren’t completely on the level) but as the film opens, it appears that he finally has an executive willing to go on the record about a deal involving the purchase of $200 million worth of missile guidance systems. Inevitably, the whole thing goes to hell and both Salinger’s partner and whistleblower are killed off, leaving Salinger back at square one. Teamed up with New York assistant D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), Salinger bops around Europe tracking down one lead after another in the hopes of putting together an airtight case against the IBCC. As it turns out, the IBCC is run about as competently as pretty much every other international bank these days and when a hiccup in the guidance system sale threatens the very future of its existence, the bank’s top executives call in their chief assassin (Brian F O’Byrne) to help facilitate the deal, stop Salinger’s investigation once and for all and allow them to continue their reign as the world’s leading evil bank.

Although you have to appreciate first-time screenwriter Eric Warren Singer for having enough of a grasp on the cultural zeitgeist to offer up a film in which a multinational bank is the villain at this particular time, “The International” quickly begins to feel like one of those plodding Seventies-era thrillers that people like David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh don’t cite as key creative influences on DVD commentary tracks. The script is pretty terrible throughout--the storyline never makes any real sense if you sit down and think about it for more than a second (and there are enough dramatic lulls here to provide viewers with ample time to do just that) and has far less on its mind than it thinks it does, the characters are all one-note ciphers whose motivations are as murky as the narrative, the dialogue is the kind of flavorless International Thriller pabulum that results in such howlers as “Would the Turk really play such a dangerous game?” and “So ends the bloody business of the day” and the whole thing ends on such a ridiculously out-of-left-field manner that it feels as if Singer just gave up trying to pull it together and slapped together the first thing he could think of, regardless of how unsatisfying it was. The screenplay is such a mess, in fact, that not even such genuine talents as director Tom Tykwer and actors like Clive Owen and Naomi Watts are able to rescue it with their efforts. Having thoroughly reinvigorated the pop action film a decade ago with “Run Lola Run,” I kept hoping that Tykwer would figure out some way of giving this material some zip, even on the shallowest of terms, but for the most part, it seems as if he is just as lost and confused as we in the audience are and is so busy just trying to keep up that he doesn’t have the time to do anything else. As Salinger, Owen plays the kind of anti-hero character normally found in films of this type--a cop on the edge who plays by his own rules and whose obsession with bringing the IBCC to justice has transformed him into a rumpled and grizzled shell of a man--but since we never really get a good sense of what drives said obsession in the first place, all that we wind up doing is noticing the fact that when it gets right down to it, he isn’t very good at his job--he doesn’t work well with others, everyone around him has a tendency to die and when it comes time for the climax, the film actually winds up trucking in someone else to help tie things up. Then again, at least he has some kind of character to play--the role that Watts is stuck with is so completely superfluous to the proceedings (as far as I can tell, she has exactly one function and that doesn’t kick in until the beginning of the final act) that I found myself wondering why the screenplay bothered to include it in the first place.

Okay, let’s get to the potentially game-changing set-piece that I alluded to earlier. About an hour or so into the movie, the scene shifts to New York, where Salinger has tracked the IBCC assassin who could make his case for him if he can bring him in and get him to testify before the bank can find him and permanently silence him. Thanks to a fairly absurd coincidence (even by the high levels of absurdity on display here), Salinger and a couple of NYPD officers manage to track him down and follow him to the Guggenheim Museum, where he is to meet with one of the top bank officials (Armin Mueller-Stahl). After a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse amid the winding ramps and constantly changing video installations along the walls, Salinger and the assassin finally come face to face but before anything can happen, both are set upon by a group of hired guns who begin spreading automatic weapons fire all over the place and are forced to join together in order to fight their way out amid the flying bullets and falling glass. Although fairly implausible from a dramatic standpoint, the sequence is staged (starting from the setting, a extremely convincing replica of the actual building erected in Berlin) and executed in such an ingenious and exciting manner that it comes across as perhaps the greatest Brian De Palma set-piece that De Palma himself never made--imagine a cross between the museum pursuit of Angie Dickinson in “Dressed to Kill” and the finale of “Scarface.” The scene is such a shot of pure cinematic adrenaline that when it finally comes to a conclusion, the rush it gives is enough to convince you for a moment that the film may have finally gotten itself on the right track. That doesn’t prove to be the case, of course, and if I had to guess, I would say that Tykwer realized early on in the production of this film that it was never going to be anything more than an incoherent potboiler and decided to concentrate all of his creativity and energy into this one sequence. The results certainly bear that out--when people make up lists of great recent action sequences in movies, this one is sure to be at the top of nearly all of them.

And yet, as brilliant as that sequence is--I would go so far as to name it the action film equivalent of the immortal Susan Sarandon-Catherine Deneuve tete-a-tete that enlivened the otherwise silly “The Hunger”--I fear that it alone isn’t quite enough to overcome the rest of the flaws surrounding “The International,”, a film that is nowhere close to being as smart or provocative as it seems to think it is. At best, all I can do is suggest that you go to see some other film at your local multiplex, sneak into the room showing “The International” about an hour into it and then sneak out again when it is over. Believe me, this is one time when there will be no penalty for early withdrawal.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17098&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/13/09 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/21/17 morris campbell good imho 4 stars
8/12/09 Daniel Kelly A noble failure, but a failure all the same. 2 stars
2/14/09 Aesop Finally! A film that makes Joe Biden seem exciting. 1 stars
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  13-Feb-2009 (R)
  DVD: 09-Jun-2009


  DVD: 09-Jun-2009

Directed by
  Tom Tykwer

Written by
  Eric Singer

  Clive Owen
  Naomi Watts
  Armin Mueller-Stahl
  Brian F. O'Byrne

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