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Worth A Look: 3.57%
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Pretty Bad46.43%
Total Crap: 7.14%

4 reviews, 4 user ratings

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International, The
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by Erik Childress

"Coming Soon: The House of Pancakes Conspiracy"
2 stars

There’s a reason the movies are always showing us elaborate bank heists and hostage situations. Because anything else involving a bank would be so deadly dull it might force entire audiences to leave the theater in pursuit of lion taming. No one wants to spend any more time than necessary inside of a bank, twisting through the ropes to wait for someone else to do what you can probably do much faster at an ATM. Films have found ways to use banks in the past as villains, but usually only to the extent of sharp-lookin’ white guys funnelling money for the real bad guys; the sexier variety of mob bosses and James Bond heavies. Banks have been at the forefront of the current economic struggles though, so there’s fortuitous timing that Tom Tykwer’s new thriller would hinge upon a single institution responsible for some pretty hefty corruption throughout the world. If only the pacing was nearly as fortuitous, The International could have turned out to be a prescient statement about our times instead of one that increasingly droops our eyelids just when it should be opening them.

As the film opens, an investigation is already under way into the financial dealings of the IBBC, a Luxembourg-based institution that appears to be power brokers for international arms dealing. At the center of the case is Interpol agent, Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), who watches as a colleague is steathily put down after a meeting with an IBBC agent. Working with, for reasons never quite explained, with Elanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), the Assistant D.A. from N.Y., the pair must maneuver between the roadblocks of colleagues looking for more evidence, tapped phones, changed police reports and witnesses dropping more rapidly. Just when a politician goes on record with them on what should form the basis for the film’s thesis (how the world is controlled by debt), he is assassinated and the film becomes the hunt for the trigger man.

All this sounds like the beginnings of a swift blend of intrigue and suspense, but instead The International settles to become a series of talky-talk-talk and more talk scenes that don’t have an ounce of anything beyond the usual cliches. Laying out a verbal chart of how money comes in and where it goes may not seem terribly exciting, but Eric Warren Singer’s script doesn’t even pretend to try it’s speaking to either a learned audience or one willing to understand just one new thing about shady economics. The taglines may read that its all about “your money” and the previews implicate us all by funding a brand of international terrorism with our weekly deposits, but never does the film itself tie us into the proceedings as some silent co-conspirator. Every conversation is a variation on how the bad guys will never allow this to happen or repeating the same moral speeches about regretting the bad things one’s done in their past. When our hero says “I’m confused” more than we do, that’s a problem. In fairness though, we might admit as much if we were awake enough to care.

The idea of our protagonists hitting the ground running and having us catch up to their investigation is a nice change of pace, forgoing the usual getting-to-know-and-convince-you exposition and thankfully making the experience probably 20 minutes shorter. But since our protagonists are such one-note space fillers, we’re never along with their determination to crack this case. Clive Owen has the benefit of being Clive Owen, so there’s always something inherently watchable about him. Casting can be such an integral ingredient. Just look at Liam Neeson in Taken, grounding a ridiculous (but skillfully made) action flick where someone like Jason Statham would have lost our attention. Louis Sallinger keeps referring to a past that suggests his potential as a dangerous loose cannon and when we’re reminded of it just before the climactic showdown, we’re half-expecting him to finally fly off the rails and go all Unforgiven (or its comic equivalent, Hot Fuzz) on the baddies. But the screenplay has no idea who this guy is or what they want to make of him other than the lead character.

Making an even lesser impression is Naomi Watts who has fallen into some strange actress limbo since her award-worthy work in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. You can understand wanting to work with such acclaimed international directors as Tykwer and David Cronenberg but the roles she’s been saddled with are complete wastes of her talent. Both Eastern Promises and The International have put Watts in situations as plot initiators but not much else as the story turned their focus to her male counterparts and their thick accents. Like Cronenberg’s wildly overpraised film, The International hinges upon one spectacularly original and well-executed action sequence while surrounding it with plotting that is older than the cultures and institutional practices at their center. To give the film its due though, Tykwer does deliver a standout shootout in New York’s Guggenheim Museum that serves a triple dose of atropine about 75 minutes in precisely when our head is about to hit the pillow for good. Seriously, you may not see five better action scenes all year, but it can’t compensate for much of the 105 minutes bookending it.

The International flirts that line between wanting to be brainy and brawny at the same time. Two-thirds of the former and a third of the latter. The details of the assassination sequence are nicely handled, but as the film continues it’s hard to buy into the secretive nature of the IBBC’s interchangable round table of Euro-bankers as the spectacle of them keeping those secrets become more and more obvious. What starts with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it poisoning becomes a car crash then a public assassination then a heavily armed encounter in a city whose police force are apparently off reading My Pet Goat. It doesn’t help matters when the two primary faces of villainy we’re given turn out to be the most interesting character in the film (Brian F. O’Byrne’s assassin) and the human equivalent of an insomnia cure. Armin Mueller-Stahl’s IBBC handler is such a monotone pill that he turns long scenes of conversation into insurance seminars and has us wandering less about how conflicted he is or what strategy he’s peddling but whether or not he is actually sleepwalking and the people listening to him are just afraid to wake him up. As the unwashed masses, the audiences for The International are supposed to be sleepwalking through an economic period where there has probably been more unpunished malfeasance than ever but we have been given a film that is either too afraid to wake us up or simply doesn’t know how.

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originally posted: 02/13/09 16:00:00
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell good imho 4 stars
8/12/09 Daniel Kelly A noble failure, but a failure all the same. 2 stars
2/15/09 Aesop Finally! A film that makes Joe Biden seem exciting. 1 stars
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  13-Feb-2009 (R)
  DVD: 09-Jun-2009


  DVD: 09-Jun-2009

Directed by
  Tom Tykwer

Written by
  Eric Singer

  Clive Owen
  Naomi Watts
  Armin Mueller-Stahl
  Brian F. O'Byrne

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