The International (2009)

Rating: B-

Dir: Tom Tykwer
Star: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen

This is something of a schizophrenic thriller. On the one hand, it wants to be a smart, elegant film, moving through boardrooms and high-finance, exposing the corruption that lies beneath the smiles and hand-shakes. And yet it still wants to show off an expensive location-shooting budget, while picking up a nomination for Best Shoot-out in an Art Gallery or Museum along the way. It’s a difficult combination to pull off, and Tykwer doesn’t quite make it, though is unquestionably aided by the presence of Owen. He is serious and intense as Interpol agent Louis Salinger obsessed with unravelling the affairs of the titular bank, and finding out why they are so interesting in buying missile-guidance systems rather than stocks and shares.

However, as in all conspiracy thrillers, he finds his efforts to investigate blocked by powerful forces, as the International have friends in high places, and no compunction about taking out those that they perceive as a threat. He’s assisted by Manhattan DA Eleanor Whitman (Watts), though her purpose in the film is somewhat questionable, and they whizz around the globe from Berlin to New York to Turkey in search of answers. With fortuitous timing, this came out in February, right when everyone was pretty much feeling that banks were the Antichrist. With the rest of the year spent breathing into the financial equivalent of a paper-bag, opinions may have calmed somewhat, but it’s still an area with scope for exploration. We would also sit through just about anything with Clive Owen in it, and Tykwer also delivers what may be the biggest, best, most cheerily-destructive gun-battle of the year, in New York’s Guggenheim Museum [fortunately for the board of directors, a convincing facsimile thereof].

On the downside, it never becomes much more than this: the opportunity to tie the murky worlds of banking, defense, politics and law-enforcement together, is never grasped and the bank feels about as plausible a threat to everyday life as the average Bond villain organization. I can understand the need to try and keep things relatively simple [try reading some of the background on, say, Nugen Hand, and you’ll see how murky banking scandals can be], and as a mindless thriller, this is fair enough. But I’d rather have seen something which tried to challenge my brain a bit more, instead of being more concerned with racking up the air-miles.