This 2009 American-German espionage thriller is directed by German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (he of Run Lola Run and Perfume: The story of a murder fame) and follows Clive Owen and Naomi Watts as they investigate a string of murders and corruption all leading back to a banking institution. Basically Owen plays Interpol agent Louis Salinger, who has been trying to bring down the IBBC bank (the International Bank of Business and Credit) for years. He teams up with NY Assistant DA Naomi Watts as they uncover illegal acts committed by the bank such as arms trading, money laundering and assassination. Every step of the way they are hindered by red tape and the extreme corruption that goes even to the highest levels of the government. Is there any way for Salinger to bring down the IBBC bank legally, or will he have to step out, passing the lines of the law for justice?
As absurd as this story sounds, it’s actually inspired by the 1991 BCCI bank scandal which saw the 7th largest private bank in the world use their 20 billion plus assets to launder money, support terrorism and traffic arms through the sale of nuclear technologies. So yeah the story is all too real, and yet the real story is much more interesting than the movie that was inspired by it. First off, The International is convoluted for convoluted sake. Much of the film makes little sense, as plotlines lead to other plotlines, branching out farther and farther, leaving many threads unanswered or forgotten. Another thing is that I don’t get why Naomi Watts is even in this film. She’s not a love interest and her part as an Assistant DA adds nothing to the story. She’s just there adding no new information to aid Owen, and basically is a character for Owen to talk to so it wouldn’t be weird that he’s talking to himself most of the time.
Also, there’s just way to many talking heads. This is a term used when characters are just sitting around in a room talking, as a type of expository, so the plot can move forward. This is fine and all, but for much of the near 2 hour running time, the whole movie is just a 2 or 3 people in a room talking to each other, and it got boring really fast. While I thought some of the plot was interesting, it’s like watching my college professor’s lecture. The trailers for this movie would have believe that this was an action fest, as ATM’s explode, giving the option for deposit or die, shoot-outs happening at a drop of the hat, and snipers taking out anyone and everyone. This is a flat out lie because besides a very nice 15 minute shootout in NY’s Guggenheim museum, there is simply no action. Not even the action of people running, I mean it, no action. Again, I don’t think anything is wrong with that, but the trailers are misleading. I mean the ATM’s exploding isn’t even in the movie.
Let’s talk a little about the Guggenheim shoot-out. This is by far my favorite part of the movie. I kept remarking how I couldn’t believe they filmed this at the Guggenheim because there’s bullet holes galore in all the art. Obviously, they built a replica set of the famous museum to film the action scene, but it just looks so real, exactly like the museum, that it was nice to watch all the modern art get torn up. Seriously people: showing a video on a 24-hour loop of people walking around in big hats and walking dogs is not art. But yeah, cool scene and Owen was pretty bad assed in it.
How about the acting? I came into this movie thinking of “what if?” For those that don’t know, before Daniel Craig took over for Bronson as the blond Bond, everyone thought Clive Owen would be the next Bond. After seeing Owen here, I think the producers of the Bond franchise made the right choice. While granted Owen is not given much to do here, I just think Craig’s hard and weathered face suits the new Bond character better than Owen’s tired and disheveled face. Anyway, here Clive Owen does his usual Clive Owen role and that’s why I love him. What makes him so great is that regardless if it’s a drama like in Closer, or an action scene like the Guggenheim shootout, his acting, his deadpan face, is always the same. It’s brilliant. Naomi Watts, well like I mentioned before I don’t know why she was in this film, and she just basically floats through the film without doing anything, but she’s not known for being a great actress. It’s just an overall really average group, but you have to wonder if it’s the script fault or the actors, and if I had to guess, I’d say the scripts fault.
One thing I wanted to point out before we wrap up this review is the ending. Now I’m not going to give anything away but I wanted to note that the International tries to set up a conclusion, a denouement, and yet by the end, all the planning bears no fruit, just a bunch of dried out seeds. So I was left baffled, thinking, then what was the whole third act about? What was the whole point of this movie? Nothing happens? It’s like planning for a month long vacation backpacking through Europe, paying for it all in advance, and then when the time comes you’ve forgotten all about it and are eating Chinese take-out in your apartment instead of going on the vacation. There’s all this setup and everything falls flat on its face, making the whole movie unnecessary. I just don’t get it.
Many critics have been pretty harsh on this film, and movie goers have been even harsher as it’s pulled in 17 million domestically in 3 weeks with an estimated 50 million dollar budget. When I first saw the trailers I thought the movie looked boring and uneventful, and I should have stayed true to my initial impression. It’s a shame because German director Tom Tykwer is a fantastic director, he’s just given very little to do here. So yeah, I give this a, “I want my money back/sneak out rating.” It does pose some interesting and thought provoking dilemmas, on how we as a society, as a government, can allow private institutions to get to big and ultimately hurt the very people they are set up to serve, but yeah, The International is just a confusing and boring mess, one that it’s director and cast are wasted on.