The International: This Movie Needs a Bailout
Tom Tykwer's The International is one of those movies in which shadowy men meet in parked cars, abandoned buildings and inconspicuous public spaces, travel under assumed names and always glance nervously over their shoulders, fearful of being spied on through a sniper's lens. All tread carefully around potentially bugged telephones, possibly sabotaged automobiles or any stranger passing too closely in the street. What, might you ask, is the cause for all this cloak-and-dagger skullduggery? Well, I could tell you, but then I'd have to bore you.
As generic as its title, The International unfolds in a half-dozen countries, with a conspiratorial plot that implicates most of the civilized world, as yet another dogged believer in justice-for-all seeks to expose the infernal machinations of a seemingly untouchable conglomerate. That the capitalist bogeyman this time is a Luxembourg bank with a brisk sideline in political assassinations and third-world arms dealing hardly matters. We could just as soon be talking about The Parallax View's nefarious Parallax Corp. or the CIA of Three Days of the Condor.
Only nobody in those films seemed quite as dense as Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), the bedraggled Interpol agent who walks through the entirety of The International looking downright aghast at the ends to which men will go in the pursuit of money and power. Who knew? Salinger carries the troubled past required of all conspiracy-movie heroes, so evidenced by his perpetual bed-head and stubble and propensity for engaging in self-righteous shouting matches with his superiors, which reliably end with someone reminding him that he's "not at Scotland Yard anymore." Likewise, we know he's found a kindred spirit in the equally idealistic Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) as soon as we see her lecturing her own jaded boss on the importance of truth and responsibility. Both actors seem mildly aggrieved (and not at all convincing) at having to play characters considerably less intelligent than themselves.
If there's one thing that Tykwer knows about, it's perpetual motion. So 'round and 'round The International goes—from Berlin to Luxembourg, Milan and New York—while Salinger and Whitman pursue an elusive hired gun (Brian F. O'Byrne) who may be the key to proving their case, dodging the requisite bullets and tinted sedans en route to the startling revelation that, sometimes, one has to bend the law in order to enforce it.
Around the time you begin to wonder if Owen and Watts achieved platinum frequent-flyer status while filming, they corner the hitman and his ex-Stasi handler (Armin Mueller-Stahl) in, of all places, Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum, whereupon The International devolves into an orgy of destruction. Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic, six-story spiral (actually an elaborate replica) is swarmed by Uzi-wielding baddies who fire thousands of rounds into conceptual art pieces and museum-goers alike, providing The International with a working metaphor for its own shotgun wedding of grindhouse inclinations and art-house ambitions.
The International takes its inspiration from the 1991 scandal surrounding the Pakistani-run Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which counted Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega among its clients. The movie never comes close, though, to the genuinely unsettling tenor of such recent corporate cautionary tales as Time Out and Michael Clayton. "Fiction has to make sense," Mueller-Stahl asserts during a third-act interrogation scene, before pointing out that real life abides by no such rules of order. Yet for all its ripped-from-the-headlines sleight-of-hand, The International traffics in the most reductive of fiction conventions, feigning world-weary cynicism while laboring toward an ending that offers both reasonable closure and faith in the ability of good to trump evil. Here is a movie for a time when such clear convictions could be taken to the bank, released into a world where they are no longer worth the celluloid they're printed on.
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