Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Film review: The International

Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Country: USA/Germany

What better time for a paranoid thriller with international banking as the root of great evil and the perpetrator of Very Bad Things? The International has a captive audience primed for just such a cathartic cinematic experience; unfortunately this globetrotting credit crunch therapy session is no more compelling than its grey colour scheme and just as cold.

Clive Owen plays Interpol agent Louis Salinger, an idealistic and dishevelled former Scotland Yard detective whose life has been on hold for years while he tracked the nefarious dealings of the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC), never managing to prove his case and losing countless witnesses along the way. Like all good conspiracies the case is impossible to prove and even harder to explain, try as they might, with liberal doses of exposition. But with this many bodies you trust that someone somewhere is up to no good.

Salinger is teamed up with New York Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) – we don’t quite know why other than the film could use a female foil for Owen. This shows in Watts’ performance, which sees her struggle with more than just the New Yawker accent, failing to really pinpoint her purpose as the pair are whisked from Germany to France, to Italy, the US and Turkey. Director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) certainly owes more to the Bourne franchise than the classic conspiracy films of the ’70s. The old tropes it does trot out belong more to ’90s popcorn paranoid fare than the dark complexities of early Alan J Pakula (The Parallax View).

Tykwer and his frequent cinematographer collaborator Frank Griebe have an eye for some spectacular views of bleak monotone corporate buildings within the stunning European cities they present to us. Symbolically our heroes always appear miniscule against the monolithic and anonymous enemies they are faced with, and it this creates much of the tension The International is able to muster.

First time scribe Eric Singer shoulders much of the responsibility for the dramatic shortcomings and dreary predictability, his script filled with hyperbole and fortune cookie philosophy (“truth means responsibility, that’s why we dread it”). Owen, to his credit, is earnest in pursuit of his character despite very little depth beyond cliché to work with; the film is at its strongest when he seems to be doing proper detective work. But with too many convenient jumps in logic or luck it is hard to invest completely in the film’s outcome, which ultimately fails to follow through its convictions in any meaningful way.

There will be much talk of The International’s centrepiece action sequence, a vertiginous shootout at NYC’s Guggenheim Museum, its lavish appearance rebuilt on a German soundstage and looking truly stunning. However, having waited two-thirds of the movie for the big set-piece, it is sad it would prove as amateurish as the hit squad sent after Salinger. The shootout goes on forever leaving you wondering if the police will ever turn up to this massive gun battle in Downtown Manhattan. No doubt Tykwer has a visual flair, but any nuances in the camera work are sullied by the utter mediocrity of the men and their machine guns trying to get to Salinger and his witness, who is probably the easiest hit man in the world to find thanks a new variation on the one-armed man clause.

“The difference between truth and fiction is fiction has to make sense,” proselytises one character in The International, a sentiment Tykwer et al. would have done well to follow.

The International opens Australia-wide February 19
This review first appeared in 3D World issue #947


Anonymous said...

Any film review that uses the word "vertiginous" is one I can get behind! Seriously though, great review Scott, but I did love the Guggenheim scene. Its realism is probably on par with any other action scene in any other movie, no?

Scott Henderson said...

Hahaha, you know, I knew I would cop some shit for this. I didn't like it, and I'm aware I'm in the minority. It looked awesome, don't get me wrong, but I thought the guy playing the crack assassin wasn't remotely convincing as a 'pro', and hit squad guys were just like black water rejects with machine guns. I know there's some suspension of disbelief required, but I couldn't get behind this one.

I watched Taken last night, and while that's a very average movie, the action is so well shot to the point whereby just being in the presence of Qui-Gon Jin kicking such serious ass is vertiginous (that's just for you) in it's own right...

The thing with The International compared to Taken is that the action just doesn't earn a 'pass'. It asks so much of me to get to this point that I couldn't forgive it. And I'm a Clive Owen apologist!