Monday, March 02, 2009

The International

So you've seen all of this year's Oscar nominees, now what? It's that dead spot in the movie year between the end of the "awards season" and the arrival of the big-budget, media dominating summer blockbusters. (Though this year the season will be shortened since I assume starting next week we'll all be debating Watchmen) I tried to snap out of my cinematic funk yesterday with The International, Tom Tykwer's take on a globe-hopping, '70s-style thriller with relevant undertones (Banks are bad!). Clive Owen plays Salinger, an Interpol agent with a fixation on the International Bank of Business and Credit. (If McDonald's figured in this movie it would be known as "Food-Getting Place")

The IBBC, as it's known throughout the movie, has its fingers in plenty of pies. The bank's chairperson (Ulrich Thomsen) wants to broker arms in the Third World as a means of controlling the debt (and eventually the natural resources) of impoverished nations. The bank seems to have arms dealers and politicians on speed dial; Salinger's efforts to prove the IBBC's involvement in the various murders that occur throughout The International are stonewalled at every turn. Only a New York ADA (Naomi Watts)whose colleague is the victim of an IBBC hit in the opening scene shares Salinger's fervor for bringing down the bank. The amount to which one enjoys The International won't depend very much on the plausibility of the IBBC's plans, indeed the fervor with which the bankers want to meddle in geopolitical affairs is part of what gives the movie its energy. It's the chases through European streets and tension over seeing just how the villains will carry out their plans that's the fun here; the pleasures of The International are the pleasures of genre familiarity. There's even a bit of clever narrative misdirection, as two characters who enter late in the story prove to be nothing like they've been described.

The slightly too early climax comes in a shootout at what's supposed to be the Guggenheim Museum, where Salinger has tailed a hit man (Brian F. O'Byrne) who has become a IBBC target. The two men shoot their way out of the museum, which I couldn't help notice contains no paintings but rather giant video screens. The actual ending, which involves a IBBC operative (Armin Mueller-Stahl) switching his loyalty, is a bit blah and (depending on how much you buy the "everyone is involved" premise) pretty cynical. But The International is an amiable winter diversion if you're looking for something to get you through until the summer fun arrives.

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