The International

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

A thriller with a clever plot need only add good acting to hold the audience. When the plot is weak, a framework is needed - a peripheral universe to draw audience attention away from the weakness. “The International” is a little bit of both but saves itself by blending the two into a professional, polished entertainment in the hands of director Tom Tykwer. 

Over the years, movie villains have been Nazis, Communists, Asians, and Middle Easterners. Guess who the new villains are: bankers. How topical; how refreshing. A global conspiracy exists wherein arms manufacturers in the big countries make millions by selling arms to the small countries. They need a central bank for laundering both intelligence and money. That would be IBBC, a German Bank whose executives have a way of dying as they learn too much.

The only trouble with a collective villain is that it’s hard to focus our anger and fear on a group of middle-aged men in business suits. Our heroes, Ella Whitman (Naomi Watts) and Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), have the same problem. As they try to sort the players into good and bad guys, they are always in danger, and because neither they nor we really know who is who, none of us ever knows what betrayal lies just around the corner or across the street. 

Clive Owen is an endearing hero. Scruffily handsome, he is often derailed by his own idealism. He plows through the investigation with an appealing vulnerability and a deep rooted sense of justice. Nice. Naomi Watts has the professionalism and confidence she needs to be credible as an assistant D.A. in the New York office, but unfortunately the role isn’t up to her talent. Without a meaty character, she looks like an ornament in the international crime scene. 

As to the peripheral distractions, Ella and Salinger lead us through the enticing urban landscapes of Lyon, Berlin, Manhattan, Milan, and Istanbul. Even the spectacular ancient and modern architecture of these places is just a teaser for what’s to happen on the fifth floor of the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum. We are deposited in a dazzling gun battle on the museum ramps, and when it’s over, the brilliant white museum walls are punctured with black bullet holes while the ramps run with blood and echo the sounds of showers of shattered glass. Visually, it’s the perfect setting. Think of Bonnie and Clyde in the ‘30s; think of contemporary Wall Street. Think blood and money. 

In a satisfying turn, Salinger confronts a banker who is complicit, but with a conscience. The two exchange the lessons they have learned. “You will have to go outside the boundaries of your system of justice,” the European warns Salinger. For once, Hollywood includes America in the global collusion, a collusion that guarantees the safety of the IBBC so they can operate illegally. No man, no country is strong enough to beat the bankers, How’s that for timing?


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