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Is it a blessing or a curse that no matter how scruffy one of Clive Owen’s characters appears on the surface, there’s just something innately Bond about him?  The bass in the voice, the canny tilt of the head, the glint in the eye, the pantherine movements even when he’s trying to look clumsy.  No, the boy can’t help it, he’s just smooth.

So, when you watch Owen in The International, playing the shaken and disheveled Interpol agent, Louis Salinger, a man haunted by ghosts of fallen comrades while chasing unreachable dragons; even at his most angst-ridden and frazzled, there’s just something utterly heroic about him.  For Salinger, the stakes are life and death with the Grim Reaper arriving Ninja-like with an innocuous nudge on the back, or in a blazing shootout in one of the world’s most famous landmarks.  Like a tired warrior heading into the arms of the Valkyrie, Salinger commits himself to seeing the fight through even if it kills him. Hard to believe all this fuss is about banking.

That fuss couldn’t come at a better time.  Director Tom Tykwer must be kissed by the angels to have released The International when the entire world is ready to lynch their nearest banker.  The International gives us a nice, simple plotline with which to focus that ire.  The IBBC is a bad, bad, international banking conglomerate, laundering money for all sorts of worldwide hooliganism; funding wars and coups all with the eye of a vulture hoping to gobble the financial carrion the devastation of these awful acts will incur.  Louis Salinger and his trusty group of international do-gooders, including Eleanor Whitman {Naomi Watts}, a Manhattan District Attorney, have been on the trail of the IBBC’s evil ways to put an end to it all.  The closer the team gets to finding out who’s at the head of all these highly-illegal shenanigans, the more endangered they become.  The IBBC is like a hydra, cut one head off and nine more grow its place with sharp, pointy teeth.  Salinger has already lost one partner and watches another expire mere yards away from where he stands.  Salinger refuses to back down and has to learn to be the predator in this cat and mouse game where he is outnumbered, outfunded and outgunned.

Tom Tykwer manages to make a thumping action piece out of all this. I never thought a film about a financial institution could be so exciting. The International does a great job of laying out for those who only have a vague notion what exactly these private banks do and how deeply into our lives and world politics these faceless parasites are embedded.  At its heart, The International is a David and Goliath story where the teeny- tiny Davids (Salinger and Whitman) aim their slingshot at a Goliath so tall they can’t even see its forehead.  For all the posh veneer and postures of above-it-all elegance that these bankers in their immaculate suits exude, in the end they are thugs and speculators, playing ends against the middle, ruthlessly counting on human tragedy to fill their coffers.  Like any back-alley extortionist, they will use unbridled force to keep the gravy train running.  Crossing Germany, Italy, France, Turkey and New York City either in pursuit of or being pursued by the IBBC’s hired guns, Salinger reluctantly has to become a one-man Special Forces; chasing down, fighting, thwarting and fleeing assassins, the Interpol operative is well over his head and on his last worn-out nerve.  His only on-the-ground assistance comes from the level-headed Whitman, a couple of plucky NYPD officers, and the IBBC’s resident ninja, who finds out the hard way that he’s just as expendable to his masters as anyone else.

There’s rarely a moment in The International to let out a breath.  Tykwer invests as much tension into scenes where Salinger and Whitman are questioning leads as he does in his action scenes.  That said, Salinger’s heart-pounding shootout with a covey of IBBC hitmen in New York’s Guggenheim Museum is one of the best cinematic uses of a Manhattan landmark since King Kong.  Best yet, my shaky-cam sensor didn’t go off once.  I’d begun to believe directors had forgotten there really is a Dramamine-free way to put the audience in the middle of the excitement and I’d like to take a moment to thank Tom Tykwer - who knows a bit about kinetic action, e.g. his heraldic showcase, 1998’s Run Lola Run - for holding the bloody camera still.  I was on the edge of my seat for the entire guns blazing white-knuckle ride down the spiral-shaped museum and knocked out by the beauty of its terrifying choreography.  Tykwer makes great use of architecture and locations to set up his motifs as the banking fiends hide in plain sight of state-of-the-art glass towers in Berlin and Milan, ultimately the real fight brings things down to the gritty level of the backstreets of New York City and through the underground cisterns and Grand Bazaar of Istanbul.

Tykwer’s casting of Clive Owen as the hollow-eyed David against the glass and chrome Goliath is perfect.  He’s given up any semblance of a normal life to the fight against IBBC, and is a shell of a man.  It’s not all that much of a stretch for him to go Kamikaze and commit all the way. The flip side to that coin is the refreshingly sane portrait of Naomi Watts’ D.A. character, who unlike Salinger, has very much to lose.  She’s a happy family woman whose maternal instincts comfort the rudderless Salinger, yet can take some hard bumps and bruises and is as savvy her male counterpart bending the rules when necessary.  The chemistry between Whitman and Salinger is tangible and makes sense, but is nicely balanced within their roles.  Armin Mueller-Stahl as a financial advisor who sold his staunchly anti-capitalist soul to the IBBC, packs a gut punch in the only “quiet” scene in the film in an ideals-challenging interrogation between himself and Owen’s Salinger.  Finally the world will see the innate lethal cool of Irish actor Brian F. O’ Byrne as frighteningly amorphous assassin, able to slay with a pat on the back.

Good stuff, this.  Fantastic action, a brilliant cast and a sharp script tightly directed, The International's thrills and excitement are only matched and indeed heightened by its uncannily apropos timing.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Feb 12th, 2009


Click Here to read our interview with The International stars Clive Owen, Naomi Watts and Director Tom Tykwer!




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