Sony // 2009 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // June 9th, 2009
Is your money making a killing?
Nobody wants to pay for a thriller that fails to thrill, which might go some way to deducing why The International made less than $26 million at the domestic box-office. I mean if you're not going to stomp up the basic genre necessities of frequent action, intrigue, or suspense, then I'm sure as hell not handing over the cash to watch your product.
The best thing you can say about The International (other than a singular sequence that we'll get to later) is that its plot involving evil bankers couldn't have come at a better time. Everyone in the world pretty much hates bankers right now, and so if ever a thriller was to be released with them as the baddies then it might as well be in a hostile economic climate of their own creation.
After one of their colleagues is killed in suspicious circumstances, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen, King Arthur ) and Assistant DA for New York, Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts, King Kong), start to suspect that the IBBC, the world's grandest bank, might have something to do with it. They probe their way into the bank they find a history of murder and a frequent funding of terrorism, but the closer that Salinger and Whitman get to fully exposing the systems dubious patterns, the more doors they find shut as the IBBC influences and threatens their superiors. Eventually both Salinger and Whitman themselves become targets of the most infamous financial stronghold on the planet and are not only fighting for justice but also their lives.
I'm actually pretty fond of a lot of people who participated in the making of The International; the one thing the film doesn't have in short supply is natural talent. Clive Owen is an actor with a strong screen presence and will likely go down in history as the greatest Bond never to actually play 007. Naomi Watts is both a gifted actress and a beautiful woman whilst director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) has long been one of the immortal filmmakers of the art house circuit. So why exactly have all these clearly able and focused artists decided to ply their trade to a thriller as stodgy and patchy as The International? God only knows.
It's not that the film is completely dreadful but rather devastatingly dull and mediocre, one or two bright spots utterly clouded over by a relentless haze of one-dimensional characters and uninteresting plot convulsions. I suppose you have to give the movie kudos for attacking such a relevant topic and providing the viewer with one out of this world gunfight...but seriously, if that's all you've got, then your destined for the bargain bin at the local supermarket. The performances are as ineffective as any I've seen the lead duo offer in recent years. They're both talented thespians, but their work here would likely lead most to think the contrary. It's a viable debate that the reason both performers underperform so notably can be attributed to the bad writing and dull as dishwater story, but if that's the case, why did they do it? Owen's character is so one dimensionally gruff and emotionally dead that you never get close to understanding his unstoppable drive to bring the bank to justice, whilst Watt's flitters in and out of the story with the same regularity as intelligent thoughts do in Paris Hilton's head. I mean the UK born actress has more sense and ability than to find the character she portrays in The International engaging, so I guess she owed someone money or fancied a bit more for herself.
The bad guys aren't scary or memorable, though as one of the bank's more conflicted associates I was struck by a quietly compelling Armen-Mueller-Stahl (Angels and Demons). His part is minimal and serves the plot more than any sort of emotional arc, but he provides this movie with its most impressive acting beats by a mile. For a lot of the movie, writer Eric Warren Singer seems determined to present IBBC as a faceless threat, but about 75% of the way through he changes his mind and tries to compile a singular villain for Owen to chase. It works on the most basic of narrative principals but it fails to further the film's flimsy attempts at becoming a credible and paranoid thrill ride.
The International is an uneven experience; it's tonally all over the place flipping from Bond style pursuits to slow burn Hitchcock but with the impact and success of neither. This is the sort of imbalance that strikes me as the work of a director and screenwriter who didn't quite have the same vision or that of a meddling studio. I can find no evidence to prove either theory but the wildly different bases the film hastily ambles to suggest that the artistic ingredients for The International weren't quite right.
At nearly two hours and following a duo of boring characters centered in a yawn inducing story, The International is a dull affair that thriller junkies are going to take serious issue with. Everything about the promotion suggests an all guns blazing action flick in the vein of Taken or Max Payne, but The International is barely half the equal of either. The pedigree is present but sadly nobody's brought their top form to the table and the story that brazenly proclaims BANKERS ARE WANKERS is a tired and uninteresting attempt at intriguing mystery.
The International looks great on DVD, the globetrotting locales given a great transfer that immediately makes me want to do comparisons with the Blu-Ray. I mean in all seriousness the lively and surprisingly vibrant picture on this disc can't be too far behind the technical capabilities of the hi-def version. On the sound front it's a little more ordinary with a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix but still plenty decent for cranking out high voltage volume on your home cinema system. The extra features are good quality to, a commentary by Tykwer and writer Singer is stilted and only sporadically interesting, but a host of featurettes make for more expedient and to the point looks at the filmmaking process. The best of the bunch is "The Making of The International," which features a varied set of contributors and actually says a good degree more than most of its kind despite coming in at just over 30 minutes. The disc also treats viewers to a deleted scene and a host of previews. Overall this is actually a better package than this film deserves or was likely to get on the basis of its unimpressive box-office receipts.
All through my review I hinted at one stand-out action moment in The International, and boy is it good. About two thirds of the way in Tykwer breaks the comatose plotline for a burst of brilliantly staged gunfire at the Guggenheim museum of art in New York. The sequence is filled with cool firearms maneuvers, massively satisfying quantities of destruction and something the rest of the flick is missing...excitement. It's this electrifying moment of action movie magic that shows what a good film The International could have been if it was less determined to plod along and actually focus on entertaining the audience. In truth this kick ass segment of the project along with the talented folk involved only goes on to make the movie a more disappointing experience...you can't help but wonder what could have been?
Unlikely to feature in the critic's bottom 10 lists, buts that's as much to do with the fact they'll have forgotten they slogged through this insipid thriller than the way it's more frustratingly average than jaw droppingly dreadful. Still can't really think of a single demographic who could leave this one with anything more than a pang of regret concerning the lighter weight of their pockets.
In advertising itself as a balls to the wall action movie The International is in many ways guilty of fraud. Mostly though, it's just guilty of not being terribly good.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scene
* Box Office Mojo