The International
What the hell?!? Get out of the street! I’m driving here!

Theatrical Release Date: 02/13/2009
Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Clive Owens, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen

With good films like “Run Lola Run”, “The Princess and The Warrior” and one of my favorite segments of “Paris, je t’aime” (not just because it had Natalie Portman), director Tom Tykwer elevated my hopes for “The International”. Like in those films, many of the visuals, dealing with New York and spanning cities across Europe, were beautiful and well composed. Toss in Clive Owen and Naomi Watts who are both at the top of my actors’ list and there should be no way this film couldn’t at least be decent.

Well … I guess there is a way because that’s just what happened.

The film revolves around the shady dealings of a massive international bank. Various agencies have attempted to get the goods on the people who run it but because of their large influence and ties to almost every major government, bringing anyone to prosecution is sort of like trying to catch water with a strainer. Of course, for the film’s purposes, it’s up to Interpol agent Clive Owen and assistant Manhattan D.A. Naomi Watts to find the evidence necessary to stop the evildoers.

On the plus side, Clive Owen does well here; resting on his laurels for the most part but keeping up his end of the bargain. Had the film provided him more substantial villains and decided whether it was an action film or a clever, real-world thriller, maybe things could have gone better.

Then there’s the other “lead actor”, Naomi Watts. I’m a big proponent of hers and think she’s one of the five best working actresses today. However, even the very best actor can’t do much if the script and direction aren’t there to provide some sort of framework. Her character never seems to settle on the emotions she should emit towards Owen and I’m not sure it mattered at all whether the role existed at all. The film is reliant upon Owen’s obsessive need to bring the bank down and she pops in and out from time to time to remind us that she’s got above-title billing but does little else.

The script has her doing the most mundane of items and is generally an afterthought to any scene she’s in. At one point, as a panicked crowd flees from the scene of a shooting, Owen’s character goes rushing after the location where the shooter must have been. He never motions to her or checks to see what has become of her. She attempts to follow, staying close enough to spot him turning the next corner but lagging far enough behind so as to seem like she’s tailing him rather than trying to catch up. If there hadn’t been other scenes between the two, detailing their commitment to bring the bad guys to justice, it would have seemed like they didn’t know each other at all.

On the plus side, there is one good action scene – taking place at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It’s a little surprising to see that they were allowed to dramatize a violent and bloody shootout there but at least it provided some measure of tempo to an otherwise lifeless film. Somehow though, the guy snoring behind me during the better part of the last half of the film (even through this scene) would probably disagree. And therein lies one of the bigger problems: pacing.

While coming in right at the two hour mark, I’d have sworn I was in that theater for another thirty minutes. The build-ups to certain events feel posed and heavy handed, making the journey to the ending more tedious than intriguing.

And then there’s the ending itself. No, this isn’t a spoiler, I won’t say what happens. But I will say that instead of actually reaching a conclusion, the epilogue is told over the credits via newspaper headlines. Really? … Really?! You go to the trouble of leading the audience through all of this only to make them pick out the important headlines and text on-screen before they drive home unsatisfied? That’s not cool, Mr. Tykwer.

“The International” manages to miss holding onto any tension it occasionally generates and basically falls short of the mark, garnering a 2 out of 5. If you’d like a good film about industrial shenanigans, try “The Constant Gardener“. This felt like it was straining to put itself on par with that film (since there were many similarities) but it’s really no contest. One film manages to convey a host of emotions while winding the audience through a maze of white collar villains … and the other is “The International”. I suppose that since the film is about corrupt financial practices, you can thank me later for saving you some cash and keeping you away from this bad investment.