The International

Sometimes timing is everything. In these calamitous days, what could be more appropriate than a paranoid thriller in which the bad guy turns out to be a bank? Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer’s The International is a well-photographed, occasionally diverting pile of nonsense, as broad as the budget deficit and as stuttering as the Minister of Finance’s latest parliamentary speech.

After a taut opening sequence, which sees a man assassinated outside a train station, we meet grizzled Interpol agent Lou Salinger (Clive Owen), a righteous man fired by his determination to bring down a crooked Swiss bank which is funding arms sales to third world dictatorships. In keeping with his position as a renegade copper, Lou has a history of professional misconduct and a solitary private life. In the course of his dogged investigations, Lou has uncovered a wall full of photographs of creepy-looking bankers but every time he comes close to cracking the case and bringing down the bank, his witnesses are killed in freak accidents.

The bank, headed up by the narrow-eyed Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen), has connections at every level of government, a team of sharp-suited lawyers and a secret division, more murders and assassinations than mergers and acquisitions, controlled by former Stasi commander Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Wexler handles the bank’s prime asset, a professional killer known only as The Consultant (played with unerring blankness by Brian F O’Byrne), who travels the world doing the dirty work while keeping one step ahead of the trailing Lou.

Into this already soggy pudding lands sharp-suited New York lawyer Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), who shares Lou’s bleak world-view and resolve to clean up the murky sewers of international finance. Together, the two race around Europe on the trail of the killer, knowing he is the key to cracking the case. This chase inspires a series of complicated action sequences, the highlight of which is a jaw-dropping fifteen minute shoot-out at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It is the finest on-screen gun battle since Michael Mann riddled downtown LA in Heat but much of the rest of the film is gibberish.

Owen clenches his jaw in his own peculiar approximation of a driven man, but Lou is an underwritten, underwhelming hero. Watts is just awful, a clanging, unconvincing character who exists only to provide the story with a female lead. To say she phones in her performance is an insult to telecommunications. The story whimpers to a dead stop after an hour, but Twyker keeps plugging on regardless, delivering a series of increasingly uninteresting finales that are as hard to watch as today’s news headlines and just as depressing.

No comments: