© 2009 Ray Wong
Whether it's foresight or luck, The International touches on a timely subject that is on everyone's mind right now -- the banking industry and their dealings -- but give it a significant, if not downright far-fetched twist.
Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) is working on a case with New York DA office on a possible lead that may expose a major international bank for certain organized crimes. When the New York officer is murdered, Salinger tries to find out who exactly is behind the conspiracy by working with DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts).
Their investigation leads them to IBBC, the fourth largest bank in the world. Apparently, IBBC is buying and selling arms to terrorists. As one character explains to Salinger and Whitman, the banks are not interested in money, but debts -- whoever controls the debts control the world. And in order to carry out their missions, IBBC, headed by Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen), would stop at nothing including assassination. In order to get the evidence they need, Salinger must track down the assassin, who will provide the direct link back to Skarssen and IBBC.
Clive Owen (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) has always been an intense but charming leading man. Here, he's practically reprising his role in Children Of Men. As agent Salinger, Owen is meticulous, stubborn, determined and, at times, ruthless. He also has a personal vendetta against IBBC, fueled by his conviction to find the people who killed his friends and colleagues. Owen has the role down-pat with his intensity as well as vulnerability.
Naomi Watts (King Kong), despite her co-star billing, has actually a relative small role here. She plays Whitman with great concentration and authority, but the subplot involving her lacks certain gravitas and drama. It's, basically, Owen's story and Watts is just a supporting character. The huge supporting cast also includes Armin Mueller-Stahl (Eastern Promises) who can play that kind of "wise old communist" roles with his eyes closed. However, his strong accent is very hard to understand -- I wish he would just ease up on that. Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen (Hitman) is very good as the mastermind behind everything -- he's able to give us a glimpse of his humanity despite the horrendous actions he takes. Brian F. O'Byrne (No Reservation) is excellent as "The Consultant" and he appears with bravado in one of the film's most thrilling sequences.
Written by new scribe Eric Singer, the script is taut with tension and filled with very interesting twists that actually make sense. Oftentimes in thrillers, logic takes a back seat to action and thrills. Fortunately, Singer is able to give us something intelligent, logical and thrilling at the same time. The first act is filled with suspense, and mysteries that would make any espionage fans happy. The second act drags somewhat as it becomes bogged down with police procedures and a wild goose chase and predictable outcomes. That said, there are some really interesting twists, and again, Singer is able to present them with logic and intelligence. The third act takes an unexpected turn, leading to an ambiguous ending that is both appropriate and thought-provoking. We all know terrorists are financially well-funded; so the question is: who really are funding them? And for what reasons?
German director Tom Tykwer (Paris, je t'aime) is excellent in keeping the tension taut in this political suspense-thriller. The pace is brisk, and the execution slick. Tykwer also succeeds in keeping the focus on Owen's character and not letting the complex plot and large cast from distracting the story. Occasionally, the point of view switches to the IBBC guys and somehow the film loses steam there. Ultimately, these weasels are simply not that interesting compared to Salinger. I am, however, surprised that IBBC doesn't just off Salinger -- they could easily do that, but then there would be no story, I suppose. That minor implausibility aside, the film is filled with intense moments and excellent twists, including an extended action sequence staged at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It's thrilling, intense, and simply jolly good entertainment.
All in all, The International is an excellent thriller built on a very timely topic. It's thought-provoking, especially in its final contemplation: How much do we really know what our financial institutions are doing? And who's going to stop them? That gives this entertaining film the weight of international relevancy.
Stars: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brian F. O'Byrne, Alessandro Fabrizi, Felix Solis, Jack McGee
Director: Tom Tykwer
Writer: Eric Singer
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.8 out of 10