Stumbling into pertinence, Tom Tykwer’s The International is a film with a concept that this time last year might’ve seemed a bit goofy. The idea of a prominent financial institution attempting to control the world’s debt and influence political policy through various nefarious power deals may or may not be believable in the midst of one of history’s biggest banking crises. But a film where the bad guys are a bunch of smarmy bankers does lend a certain amount of satisfaction in today’s economy.
Even so, The International isn’t a movie that will make itself a ton of fans. Billed as an action film, it skimps on the high-octane set pieces, while slathering on the plot. Plus, the same current of cynicism that fueled Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005) constantly hangs over the film.
For the casual moviegoer, all these things are likely deal breakers, but Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) never appears to be making a movie for Joe the Moviegoer. Sure, there are a handful of action scenes thrown in here and there, but even those come across as strangely intellectualized. The movie’s big set piece is a gunfight that takes place in the Guggenheim of all places, a locale that’s probably not going to find a place in the next Tony Scott flick.
The plot revolves around Louis (Clive Owen), an Interpol agent, and Eleanor (Naomi Watts), a New York City assistant district attorney. Louis and Eleanor are attempting to build a case around an arms deal being perpetrated by the International Bank of Business and Credit. The story soon becomes one of assassination and intrigue, since anyone who attempts to bring down the IBBC ends up in the morgue.
Eric Warren Singer’s script is no great shakes, and Tykwer’s direction gives the impression that he is aware of this, since he squeezes a good bit of deceptive style out of the material at hand. Tykwer takes full advantage of the fact that The International involves a lot of globetrotting. Every locale—from Milan to Berlin to Istanbul—is visually interesting, making the most of the local architecture. At the same time, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the cast is a classy ensemble of performers, from Owen on down to Armin Mueller-Stahl (Eastern Promises).
That’s not to say that the film isn’t without some glaring flaws. The script can be a bit too convoluted at times, and key plot points—like why the New York City district attorney’s office lets one of their employees crisscross the globe—are never sufficiently explained. Other details come across as a bit silly and don’t quite fit the film’s serious tone (could someone explain why there’s a gang of submachine gun-toting heavies hanging out in the Guggenheim?).
But nevertheless, it’s still a movie that has something on its mind, a fact that’s refreshing on its own, especially when found in a multiplex where the competition includes the wholesale slaughter of buxom co-eds and Steve Martin affecting a cheesy French accent. While this doesn’t make The International a good film, it is appreciated. Rated R for some sequences of violence and language.