, 118 min, 2009
Director: Tom Tykwer
Writer: Eric Singer (written by) (as Eric Warren Singer)
Stars: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Tom Tykwer’s The International is a tense, fascinating global thriller and an absorbingly hypnotic tale of coporate greed, murder, corruption and the odyssey to expose the truth.
Clive Owen stars as Louis Salinger, a British Interpol agent stationed in Lyons, France who, as the film opens, is knocked unconscious just after his partner is poisoned by a passer-by on a busy Berlin street. He is aided by a Manhattan district attorney named Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), a loving wife and mother who seeks justice and the truth about the mysterious International Bank of Business and Credit. The IBBC is an organization in Luxembourg that appears to deal in arms dealing, funding everything from drug dealers and small conflicts in developing nations to major wars. Represented by such hard-faced villains as Wilhelm Wexler, (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the well-dressed man who orchestrates their business, and the mysterious Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen), an enigmatic creeton who controls things from afar, the IBBC appears to be assassinating people who are getting too close to the truth about their operations. This involves a cold, calculating marskman known simply as The Consultant (Brian F. O’Byrne).
As Salinger and Whitman get closer to the truth, the stakes get higher, and it’s only a matter of time before a violent showdown must occur. Don’t think, however, that you know how this is going to turn out.
The film has been directed by Tom Tykwer, the German-born wunderkind who is no stranger to international filmmaking – here, his plot spans from New York and France to Luxembourg, Germany and even Turkey. Once a hyperkinetic visual whiz-kid, now gone are his camera trickery (Run Lola Run), his obsession with destiny and fate (The Princess and the Warrior, Winter Sleepers) and all that appears to remain from his previous work is small-scale mayhem on an international stage (Heaven).
The screenplay by Eric Singer manages, unlike most action thrillers these days, to work a ton of information and plot around the stunning visual sequences. Working with long-time cinematographer Frank Griebe (Run Lola Run, Heaven), Tykwer here crafts a number of terrific set-pieces: from the subtle opening murder on the streets of Berlin, to a brilliant assassination in Italy, to a tense, bravura sequence that would make Hitchcock proud, as well as the shootout at the Guggenheim (with its interiors created on a soundstage in Germany) that follows, all culminating in a riveting foot-chase through a public market in Istanbul.
Clive Owen is effective and believable, more or less, as a doggedly determined do-gooder trying to wrestle an evil organization to its knees, though Naomi Watts is more or less along for the ride in an underwritten and underutilized role as his American counterpart.
Inevitably, this must all lead to a final showdown with the villain – but notice the neat way that he manages to lay out a perfectly rational reason why killing him will do no good, and then see how the movie more or less confirms his case. I loved the way the end credits appeared alongside a montage of newspaper headlines about the villains – which are chilling in their implications.
If you’re looking for a completely plausible documentary approach to a believable scenario, this ain’t it. As far as semi-intelligent and well-made popcorn movies go, this is a damn good one.