FILM REVIEW: The International 

Bad Banks Are Back: Clive Owen and Naomi Watts sizzle in The International

click to enlarge Naomi Watts as Eleanor Whitman and Clive Owen as Louis Salinger in the International - PHOTOS COURTESY OF COLUMBIA PICTURES
  • Photos Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
  • Naomi Watts as Eleanor Whitman and Clive Owen as Louis Salinger in the International

The International
Starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts
Directed by Tom Tykwer
Rated R

Corruption! High finance! Political murder! Clive Owen!

Mmmm, Clive Owen ...

Boo, naughty banks!

The timing of this smart, savvy thriller couldn't be better, what with its corporate-banks-are-evil theme and a hero who yells at banksters that he wants "some fucking justice." And, of course, Clive Owen is always welcome on my movie screen: The International is like the answer to my wish after his one bit in The Bourne Identity in which he so burned up the screen as an assassinating spook that I wanted the whole movie to be about him.

The International, from Run Lola Run wunderkind Tom Tykwer and newcomer screenwriter Eric Singer, is so good at whipping up the global conspiracies concocted in boardrooms that we might as well put on our tinfoil hats and declare that this is part of a real conspiracy, a pacifier thrown our way by our capitalistic overlords: If we're getting our justice jollies voyeuristically via Owen's angry Interpol agent, then we're not out there carrying pitchforks and peasant torches ourselves.

Damn, but this movie is satisfying in a lot of ways. It's one of those movies that feels like it goes on forever, but in a good way, like you don't ever want it to end and are sorry when it does.

click to enlarge It's like Law and Order: Europe
  • It's like Law and Order: Europe

And I don't mean only in the getting-some-fucking-justice sense, either. Surprisingly old-fashioned in its adherence to solid, unpretentious suspense, The International is perfectly exhilarating for its craftsmanship and low-key style, too. We join Owen and Naomi Watts, as a New York City district attorney, as they try to nail the ominously monikered International Bank of Business and Credit for some very bad things that could, arguably, be deemed crimes against humanity. Owen's agent is twitchy in his hindered authority: He's ex-Scotland Yard, eager to do some real police work to bring down these banking bastards (he's crossed swords with them before, of course), and doesn't want to be limited to Interpol's information-gathering mandate. Watts is his unruffled counterpart, sleekly professional and calmly competent. (Refreshingly, their investigation is not complicated by romance, though the two actors sizzle with creative chemistry together onscreen.)

As they trot around the globe — Berlin, Milan, Istanbul — the feeling that we're watching a great episode of Law and Order: Europe gives way to superbly executed action excitement, such as a foot chase through a crowded Turkish street market and a shootout at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City that is an instant cinematic classic — it reminds you why filmmakers always resort to gunplay, because when it's pulled off well, it is uniquely thrilling.

And then come the plot twists: things I never saw coming and should have. At one point, during the Guggenheim sequence, in fact, everything I thought I knew about what was going on took a 180 turn ... and then moments later took another 180 turn that, were normal physics involved here, should have taken us back to where we started, but instead takes us into a whole new realm. It's awe-inspiring not just in a storytelling sense — how wonderful to be genuinely startled by a movie! — but also in an artistic one. So there really are still filmmakers out there who aren't content merely to do work that is good enough, but better than we ever might have expected.

I didn't realize it 'til long after the movie ended, but there's a huge plot hole that should have ruined that Guggenheim sequence. But I find that I don't care. The International is so entertaining that I can forgive it that one small flaw.

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