Monday, April 06, 2009

The International

Year: 2009
Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen

I've always enjoyed watching Clive Owen and Naomi Watts on screen. Separately of course. And now they're both in the same film. I thought, this film would be great. Unfortunately, it's not.

The International, a thriller about an international bank that funds criminal activities and terrorism, is said to have come at a bad time, as we are in the midst of a financial crisis. However, the problem isn't the subject matter or the timing, but the execution.

The film begins with Owen's character Louis Salinger from Interpol witnessing the sudden death of his colleague from the Justice Department on the streets of Berlin. He suspects foul play but is unable to prove it. Salinger works hand in hand with DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) in investigating the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) concerning suspicions over financing illegal activities around the globe. At the time of his colleague's death, he had just met with an IBBC employee who was willing to come forward with evidence to implicate his employers.

Salinger and Whitman follow one lead after another, but each person eventually winds up dead. Then Salinger meets Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl), someone close to the IBBC head honcho Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen). Wexler convinces Salinger to go outside the system to uncover the IBBC's dealings.

At the helm of this thriller is Tom Tykwer, famous for the film Run Lola Run. If there's one thing he got right in this film, it's the cinematography. Filmed mostly in Europe, Tykwer takes advantage of the wonderful architecture on display by using wide shots and aerial shots to show us the buildings there. Great job on that.

Now for the story. The International is meant to be a thriller where the bad guys are the untouchable kind, the kind that can do whatever they want and get away with it because they have the means and the power to manipulate everything. However, the execution of this particular point falls flat. Skarssen is made to look like a regular businessman instead of a mastermind, so there isn't a moment where I was convinced he was in control of everything. The IBBC's power isn't well portrayed, all I see are sloppy displays of how they handle situations when Salinger gets too close, like having a dozen men run into a museum with guns blazing to silence someone. Whatever happened to subtlety?

Owen plays Salinger with intensity, but it's nothing to shout about. Owen always plays characters like this, it's a walk in the park for him. Personally I'd love to see him in a comedy. That'd be a true test of his talent. Watts doesn't have much to do here, which is disappointing. And Mueller-Stahl.....why does he always get roles like this? The old man who has information but won't talk, the man who knows more than he's letting on? He's the most typecast actor around, I tell you.

I love the plot, and the camerawork. But it could have been so much better. Too bad. (3.5/5)

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