Saturday, April 04, 2009


Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Director: Tom Tykwer
Runtime: 120 min.
Rating: ***1/2
Genre: Thriller

        We open to a man sitting in the rear seat of a sedan conversing with a bald man driving it. Through the rear view mirror. They talk in ciphered dialogs that we aren’t supposed to make any sense of, but only wonder what they must be arriving at. We realize that the bald man is an informant, a pretty hefty one, and to bring him in he ought to bring in some pretty solid paperwork as evidence. They decide for a second meeting, and as audiences well versed in the techniques of spy movies and Ludlum books we already know this second meeting wouldn’t happen. Somebody’s going to disappear from the face of the earth. That is the norm. The man gets out, the one sitting in the rear that is, and he walks towards a nearby cafeteria right across the road, where the Interpol agent and partner Louis Salinger (Mr. Owen) is waiting for him. The film focuses on the crossing. In our capacity as the seen-it-all audience we know this is where this man would get killed. We’re wrong. He begins to vomit. He has already been poisoned and killed. We haven’t seen any action around him that would rouse our suspicion, yet the man has been killed right there on the curb. That is when we realize that the film would use convenience to enhance its plot, and more importantly wouldn’t necessarily be convincing.
        That it still manages to entertain us engross us and often surprise us, not via standard ultra-fast cutting and ultra-shaky camera but via thoughtful and precise shots allowing us to soak the environment in is something worth applauding. Salinger, whose wall is overstuffed with unsolved cases and whose life seems to have been lost chasing an evil organization in a labyrinthine world, has anger and frustration writ all over his face. If he seems old and exhausted than there is a reason to it. Impotency and failure and ineffectiveness can drive the sanest of men into a perpetual state of rage. He works at the Interpol headquarters in Paris but he seems to be so untrusting of others that he travels all the way to the corporate office of a Luxembourg bank IBBC to only ask a single question and catch the inconsistency in the official reply. This IBBC, if one would have been curious enough to venture into one of the late Robert Ludlum’s novels, would bring home the memories of that ridiculously omnipresent Inver Brass. Salinger, along with Eleanor Whitman (Ms. Watts), an Assistant District Attorney based in New York, can only see the tips of these tentacles of this organization spread every which where, but can only catch thin air when pursuing them. The film finds Salinger lost in this world through spectacular wide angle shots, surrounded by super-tall buildings, where he is no more than a worm ready to be squished. He wouldn’t have no identity, he is as dispensable in this ultra-convoluted state of affairs as the next worm, and The International finds Salinger and Whitman so tiny that it practically feels like a vast and relentless desert.
        One would observe that in times like these, slapping an international bank with the badge of organized crime feels justified. But one could argue that The International fits the bill of the standard European globe-trotting thriller Hollywood feeds us the annual dosage of. That it is significantly more competent technically but just as preposterous if not more is something we have to live with. There’re convenient plot developments, unexplained escapes, well-shot well-choreographed but unconvincing action sequences and unneeded philosophical rhetoric that spoils the film from towering above the confines of its genre. Obligatorily and understandably so, the conflict does find itself slowly shift from man versus organization to man versus few individuals. There’s a foot chase sequence that is so precise and well done that one is reminded of The French Connection. Maybe the man, Salinger that is, has had just about enough of dealing with failures every moment of his life and he has considerably lowered his expectations and has realized that pushing against the wall of such an organization is no more than an ungainly exercise, and to instead quench the thirst of his anger the mortal men running this lifeless (immortal) organization would be a better target. The International, directed by the exciting and talented Mr. Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume), does provide with some valuable food for thought, especially through the Salinger character but loses itself to the extremely feeble script.
        I would consider Mr. Tykwer’s film a success that is more than worthy of some discussion for its formal choices, and its audacity to end the way it does. Even for the audacity it attempts to build itself gradually, one thread above another and admirably resisting the temptation of jumping from one action scene to another as is the norm. Mr. Owen, who’s hardly a formidable name to set the cash registers ringing at the box office, finds just the right tone for his character, and he is perfectly supported by the Ms. Watts, for whose awesome talent this kind of role feels bread and butter. The International is something you should see to realize how dumb the globe-trotting thriller has gone, and how a film like this one, which is otherwise quite mediocre in plot and quite good in execution, feels like a fresh breath of air. Something whose clarity inspires us to observe both the details and flaws, and not hide it all from us and throw is in nothing more than a state of confusion.

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