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The International

The International

2009, USA
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
Written by: Eric Singer
Produced by: Lloyd Philips, Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen

Filmed all over Europe and the US, The International aims to be a slick action thriller in the vein of the Bourne films, with a bit of socially conscious intrigue a la Michael Clayton. What we get instead is a stale, predictable clunker full of half-baked dialogue and unconvincing performances.

Clive Owen plays Louis Salinger, a disgraced former cop with Scotland Yard now working for Interpol. His beat, nay, his obsession, is IBBC, an international bank he suspects of being involved in some very shady dealings including the murder of virtually anyone who has tried to speak out against them. He is working in conjunction with the Manhattan district attorney’s office gathering intel in Germany when his partner suddenly drops dead of a heart attack after meeting with an informant. Frustrated, he is eventually joined by Eleanor Wittman (Naomi Watts) of the D.A.’s office and together they embark on a quest to uncover the truth and seek to avenge the death of their colleague.

It is not clear whether it is due to a weak script or mediocre direction, but the majority of the performances on hand are one note and unappealing. Owen spends most of the film either looking pissed off or disappointed and the usually capable Watts looks like she is reading her lines off the teleprompter. Although there are brief flashes of Owen’s legendary charm, such as when he lies to a potential witness to get him to cooperate, the characters are so feebly developed that there is almost no one for the audience to sympathize with.

The best performance in the film is that of Ulrich Thomsen, playing the evil bank chief Jonas Skarssen, but his character is too arch and evil to be truly engaging. Armin Mueller-Stahl also manages to be somewhat sympathetic, but even he seems bored with his tired dialogue.

However, perhaps the greatest sin the film commits is that it is both predictable and boring. The bad guys are so clearly bad, and the odds are stacked so overwhelmingly against our heroes that the audience feels the same ennui towards the film that they do towards the multinational organizations running our lives that IBBC is meant to represent. There is not nearly enough action for an action film and key plot points and splashed about all over the place in talky, near didactic dialogue scenes that make the film feel much longer that its 118 minutes.

The only real bright spot is the cinematography. Director Tykwer wisely takes advantage of the international settings, using aerial photography and modernist architecture to offer some visual counterpoints to the plodding proceedings. However, the constant use of sleek glass and steel buildings also serves to highlight how pedestrian and old fashioned the script really is. While the visuals are clearly modern and futuristic, the script spoon feeds the audience as though it were the blue plate special at an old folks home.

Although not a bad idea for a film, in the light of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other American lending institutes a film with a bank as the villain does seems inspired, The International lacks the sophistication of newer action thrillers like Bourne and instead feels more like a waste of talent and potential. Too bad.

Mariko McDonald