The International Directed by: Tom Twyker Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watt, Armin Mueller-Stahl Running Time: 2 hrs Rating: R
Plot: After Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen) watches his partner murdered while investigating the shady dealings of the mysterious global bank known as the IBBC, he’s determined to expose its leaders for their crimes. Along with New York District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Watts), he’s led on a criss-cross journey across the globe, from Berlin to Luxemburg, New York to Milan. As the story progresses, the scope of the IBBC’s power starts to become clear as Salinger narrows in on the one target that could bring it to its knees.
Who’s It For? Fans of action and espionage will enjoy this film’s pacing, which starts out tight and only intensifies.
Expectations: Owen is an action favorite after his roles in Sin City and Children of Men, and Watts usually brings her own brand of tough-chick femininity to her characters. Plus, the story of two rogue agents tackling a giant bank seems promising, so hopes are high.
Actors: Clive Owen as Louis Salinger: Owen has established himself as a Grade-A badass in the past few years—even if his character range has varied only slightly—and he doesn’t disappoint here. His is a tough-as-nails performance, and the way he bounces from continent to continent in search of retribution for the IBBC’s crimes, gives him the impenetrable coldness usually reserved strictly for Bond. But unlike Bond, Owen’s Salinger feels like a real guy. Score: 8
Naomi Watts as Elanor Whitman: The usually vibrant Watts is virtually useless and in The International, which is hugely disappointing. She could have feasibly been edited out of the story and it probably would have still made equal sense. Aside from being a pretty face to offset Owen’s hard exterior, all Watts can really contribute to this film is her name and a phony, labored American accent. This is especially tragic because when given the right material, Watts can be superb. Score: 2
Armin Mueller-Stahl as Wilhelm Wexler: Though it's an understated performance, Mueller-Stahl's portrayal as a once-good man who got sucked in to the IBBC's dirty dealings is resonant. He is especially good during his scenes with Owen, and the two players serve as versions of each other on opposite sides of one of the film's central questions: do you risk everything to uphold justice or enjoy the safety and luxury of compliance with evil? Mueller-Stahl's nuanced take helps punctuate this question. Score: 7
Talking: The characters spend a lot of time talking in this film, which is necessary considering its sometimes intangible plot. To its credit, the film does a decent job of moving the story and the exposition along at a pretty decent clip and keeping the audience mostly engaged, thanks no doubt to the action that’s sprinkled throughout. That said, there are a few too many uses of clichéd road metaphors, like “Sometimes the hardest thing in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which to burn,” or, “Sometimes a man finds his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” The line between poignant and camp grows ever blurrier. Score: 6
Sights: This film scores lots of points for its visuals. Though it features nothing spectacular, Twyker proves in scene after scene that he is adept at keeping the story sharp by not letting shots run too long, and by making cinematography choices that pull their weight in the storytelling, like during the first assassination of the film, when the victim is injected with deadly toxins on the street without even realizing it. Score: 8
Sounds: Sounds design plays a big part in keeping the tension at a breaking point all the way throughout. Though these high stakes moments don’t always come with fair payoffs for audiences, things like well-placed piano jabs keep you from ever completely relaxing, even after you’ve been burned by a dead-end scene or two. Score: 7
Best Scene: This one’s easy—in the second act, there’s an intense shoot-out in the Guggenheim Museum. What starts with Salinger and company tailing a wanted assassin turns into a brutal and bloody firefight that ends in complete destruction. It’s loud, it’s scary, and it is unmatched anywhere else in the film.
Ending: This, besides Watts cardboard performance, was one of the biggest disappointments of the film. It’s abrupt and unsatisfying, and audiences are left with more questions than answers about what happens to the IBBC, even despite an obligatory news clip reel during the credits.
Questions: The biggest of those questions being: What happens to Salinger and Whitman? Do they ever find retribution, or do they instead suffer for the crimes they commit along the way? These questions bug me… but thanks to the haphazard character development, they don’t bug me that much.
Rewatchability: One viewing is enough to glean the best parts of this film, and though it’s exciting at times there is nothing amazing enough to want to see again.
The International, which seeks to be a sweeping and politically thought-provoking adventure story, falls short somewhere, and not just at its awkward ending. It seems to be a story of if-only’s and almosts, with lots of false starts and dead ends. There are some terrific action sequences, and Owen is definitely at the top of his game, but it seems this film was never destined to have much trajectory.
The themes at play deal with the indestructible power of global banks, and of the power of debt itself. Today’s recession isn’t far from anyone’s mind, so these are provocative ideas. The International doesn’t paint a terribly optimistic picture, and without giving too much away, I’ll say it’s a picture that has been disproven during recent economic events. Still, it plays with how our insatiable need for money that no one has and our bottomless dependence on credit effectively renders us susceptible to unspeakable injustices. Tough to argue with that.
But for a film with A-list actors, stunning special effects and such timely and relevant ideas at play, The International just doesn’t pass the test.
Final Score: 5/10