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Our review of The International, published June 9th, 2009, is also available.
They control your money. They control your government. They control your life. And everybody pays.
Sir Isaac Newton was a brilliant man, best known for his three laws of motion. I'm sure we all have our favorite, and mine is the third, most often simply stated as "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." We all know how this applies to our lives scientifically (e.g. push a kid in a swing and away he goes) but we often overlook how it applies to the world of Hollywood. The International is the perfect example of Newton's Third Law of Motion, or the more universally accepted yin/yang of life.
Facts of the Case
Louis Salinger (Clive Owen, Inside Man) is an Interpol agent investigating the IBBC Bank. He and his American associate, Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts, The Ring), believe the bank is working with organized crime, laundering their money; but now they suspect the bank is getting itself tangled far more deeply and intimately with terrorists around the world. As the two agents try to find a whistleblower within the organization, each person they talk to ends up dead. With every avenue of investigation closing down, with enemies apparently placed everywhere, Salinger frantically tries to find a way to bring the bank down.
What's all this "laws of motion" and "ying and yang" stuff? Just a few weeks ago I had the chance to review one of my favorite heist films for The Verdict. That movie was Inside Man. As you may recall, that excellent film by Spike Lee features, in the most simplest of terms, Clive Owen and a bank. This week I had the chance to review one of the worst movies I've seen in some time. That movie was The International, which, in the most simple of terms, involves Clive Owen and a bank.
For every great movie there has to be an equal and offsetting bad movie. You thus have Inside Man and The International. What the former has in abundance is profoundly lacking in the latter: There's no one to root for, the plot is ridiculously tiresome, the acting is subpar, and it just doesn't make any sense—you just don't care when it's all said and done.
First and foremost, we're supposed to be in awe and fear of this massive and allegedly bad IBBC bank. After two hours, I was neither. The film fails to produce any malice or evil intent around this institution. You never buy the central tenet that the bank is bad, all-powerful, and capable of all manner of deviousness. When your core idea falls flat, you have to work hard to keep the movie going. To do that, we have the evil executives and hired assassin to strike fear into our hearts. While this works better, with the people coming across as underhanded, it isn't enough to offset the glaring omission the bank itself isn't all that frightening.
Because the bank is a weak character, because the movie's thrust is tarnished, you can't vest yourself in the film. You aren't intrigued, and you grow tired and bored. You just don't care about whatever Clive and Naomi are doing. And that is another problem: You aren't really sure what they are doing. They run around from person to person, trying to find someone to help them with their case, but most of the time you're just wondering what they're doing. It seems a bit disconnected and disjointed—assuming you haven't drifted so far that you've actually fallen asleep.
What's perhaps the greatest travesty of the movie is the complete misuse of Clive Owen. I really like this guy. He's got great presence, knows how to carry himself, can act brilliantly, and yet none of that shines through here. Clive is a mere wisp of himself, coming across as tired, shlumpy, and bored. I knew we were in trouble when the very first shot of Clive in The International feels like a cliché of Clive Owen. The scene simply involves him standing and staring off at something in the distance. And yet in that stare is nothing but a blank expression of Clive trying to give us something from a character that has nothing to give. You can believe that Clive is King Arthur, a wicked assassin who loves carrots, a brilliant bank robber, but you are left bemoaning any believability in his semi-action oriented Interpol agent. To all that, with Clive's talent wasted, imagine that multiplied tenfold to realize how completely useless Naomi Watts is. She's there for what, eye candy; the hardened agent and mom who may not see her wonderful child again. Her character can be removed completely from the film, she wouldn't be missed, and you'd barely have to change anything to account for her absence.
And then there's the final insult. After a less than climactic ending—though it looks pretty—the film wraps on with a montage of faux newspaper articles explaining what happened next. Lame.
While the story is positively limp, the disc itself is an excellent offering from Sony. The 2.40:1 1080p video is first-rate with some positively stunning and crisp moments that make you feel as if you're right in the midst of the "action." Colors are spot on, blacks are deep, contrast pops, and details sparkle. You'll like what you see…technically. On the audio front we have a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that is enjoyably precise. By that I mean this is not an aggressive track, instead focusing on clean dialogue and using the other channels to immerse you in the environment.
For the bonus features, if you somehow found something to enjoy in The International then you'll be excited with the selection of bonus features that give an impressive and diverse assortment of items that explain much of the making of the movie:
• Picture-in-Picture: At first blush I was enjoying this commentary/behind-the-scenes item, but I quickly realized that, like the movie, it wasn't making sense. Moving between the bottom left and right corners of the screen—in an all too small box—the inserted video often showed behind-the-scenes footage of the scene playing in the movie, but the overlapping commentary often didn't relate to what you were watching. And after many a long gap between pop-ups, there would be video but no audio. As with the movie, I was soon bored.
• Audio Commentary by director Tom Tykwer and writer Eric Singer: By this point in the bonus feature process I found myself simply wanting it to be over, but I muddled through. However, my disdain for the movie and boredom with the other bonus items (this was the last bonus feature I perused) clearly fed into my general malaise for this feature. I could tell that the two were sharing some decent information about the film, but I simply just didn't care anymore.
• "Salinger and Whitman" Extended Scene (11:23): This scene offers a bit of insight into the two characters, but the problem is that I wasn't sure if this was one long scene or little scenes spliced together. There isn't an intro or any context as to where it belongs—except when it ends with Clive going for the ice in his freezer.
• "Making of The International" (30:07): A better than average making of piece that covers a lot of different bases that went into the making of the movie.
• "Shooting at the Guggenheim" (6:32): An "OK" feature that talks about what was needed to create the "big" scene at the Guggenheim.
• "The Architecture of The International" (6:13): As you watch the movie, it slowly creeps into your consciousness that there's a distinct focus on modern, industrial architecture. This feature discusses that architecture.
• "The Autostadt" (5:04): Directly tying into the previous piece, this featurette discusses this building and its first appearance in a film.
Also included is cinechat (which I still haven't tried), BD Live (which features no specific content for this movie), a digital copy, and a bevy of trailers: Waltz with Bashir, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Passengers, Casino Royale, Damages: Season 1, The Da Vinci Code: Extended Cut, What Doesn't Kill You, Sky Crawlers, Blood: The Last Vampire, Vantage Point, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and The Informers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's now time to reveal the few things that have a positive slant in the movie.
First, there are some beautifully crafted scenes in the movie, most notably in establishing shots. The cinematography captures the beauty of the area—usually a European location frames it expertly, and with the clarity of Blu-ray, you have some stunning scenes.
As for the movie itself, there are honestly a few good moments interspersed throughout. You can feel that under better circumstances a good movie is hiding in there someplace. But, as I said, all those moments just don't come together and mesh into an enticing narrative.
I hope that you already knew what a bad movie this was before you began reading this. I knew from the instant I saw the trailer on television that this would be a stinker, but I gave it a second chance just because of Clive Owen. That was a mistake and The International is a weak, dull, and plodding film. It may have a few quality moments, it does have excellent transfers, and the bonus materials aren't as bad as I made them out to be; but none of that can overcome the inherent weakness of the movie. So it comes as no surprise that I am not recommending the movie at all: not for rental and certainly not for purchase. It's a colossal waste of time, and I'd be glad to recommend any number of other movies first.
The International is hereby found guilty of fraud.
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