– Summary –
Director : Tom Tykwer
Cast : Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brian F O’Byrne, Michel Voletti, Patrick Baladi, Jay Villiers, Fabrice Scott, Haluk Bilginer, Luca Barbareschi, James Rebhorn, Ben Wishaw, Felix Solis, Jack McGee, Tibor Feldman.
Year of Release : 2009
Length : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: An Interpol agent tracks the movements of a suspected terrorism-funding bank, in an attempt to bring it down.
Review : Solid, impenetrable film starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, The International is a valiant attempt at a social thriller for our time, and winds up being, well, a little boring.
Somewhere in this story, there’s something about a large multi-national bank funding terrorism, which leads Interpol agent Salinger (Clive Owen) and Assistant DA in New York Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) to try and bring it down. Subterfuge, assassinations, covert operations, and a fantastic shoot-out in the Guggenheim Museum: The International has all the hallmarks of being a great film.
Layered, more serious than it needed to be, The International is a star-vehicle that stalls on the start line. Naomi Watts and Clive Owen both struggle with motivation in this lacklustre “thriller”, which seems more an exercise in geographical rubbernecking than anything else. Armin Mueller-Stahl is once again typecast as a misunderstood Eastern Bloc throwback, the same kind of role he played in Eastern Promises a few years ago, which is disappointing, considering his range as an actor.
Director Tom Tykwer, whose career seems to have stalled since his breakout film Run Lola Run, has style to burn here, but the film lacks a critical sense of tension, which limits its enjoyment to an audience. His direction of the Guggenheim shoot-out, in particular, is stunning, a Bourne-style frenetic sense of pacing that’s a true joy to watch, but it’s book-ended by a couple of hours of pretentious gurning by both Owen and Watts as they struggle to generate characters from the frosty script. There’s a strange sense of pallid awkwardness over the film, an intangible flatness that eliminates any fun or excitement at the proceedings, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what is responsible for it. Well, wholly responsible. The script is partially to blame: it’s a flaccid thing that is neither explanatory nor exultant. Characters come and go with little explanation, which can work for a film if it’s that sort of style; The International is a cross between a spy thriller and a Bourne Identity action flick, a blend which somehow falls flat here. Inexplicable.
Clive Owen is an actor of limited range, it must be said. His emotional range sits somewhere between a Buick and Hadrians Wall. Yet I’ve enjoyed each of his performances in film since his breakout role in Croupier, including his assassin in Bourne Identity, and even as Arthur in the abysmal King Arthur. He’s the kind of actor that needs a certain type of role to suit his persona, lest he be out of his depth. He’s out of his depth here. Owen struggles with the dichotomy of the Interpol agents character, to chase the bank to the furthest reaches of the world or to stop, give up and go home. Salinger is the Martin Riggs of the Interpol set: even when he’s taken off the case by his superior officers, he still barrels ahead to solve it all, chain-of-command be damned. But Owen lacks the subtle insanity the role would otherwise demand. He plays it as the silent, quiet type; the office drone thrust into a different world and forced to sink or swim.
Naomi Watts, who made most of the Hollywood elite erect with her performance in Mulholland Drive, is perhaps the most luminous actress working in the industry today. She shines in almost every role, and The International is no exception. Her work is solid if unremarkable, a dreadful character performed most admirably. When I say dreadful, Eleanor is not a very sympathetic or interesting character; she plays more as a foil for Salinger than anything else, a sounding board to generate the required narrative thrust. A character simply for the sake of it, as it were. Still, Watts is good in the role, even if the part could be excised completely with little impact on the film as a whole.
The central plot of The International is a little hard to follow if you’re not paying attention, and the script doesn’t lend itself to explanation the entire time. Many critics of the film applaud the fact the movie doesn’t pander to those with lower concentration time, although films using this technique often run the risk of being somewhat incomprehensible. The International manages to skirt a head-scratching narrative by allowing much of it’s convoluted plot (based on true events, if you can believe it!) to ease out using a multitude of second-tier characters. The International seems more like a giant jigsaw puzzle, pieced together by both major players and assisted by some minor ones, although the end result is a hodgepodge of jumbled motives and red-herrings.
For the casual viewer, there’s plenty to enjoy about The International. It’s intelligent enough to be interesting, although lacks the action quotient to really generate excitement. For the more discerning viewer, however, The International is like a forged cheque: looks great but isn’t able to deliver what it promises. Ultimately, an unrewarding experience.