Dir: Tom Tykwer
Plots are funny little things. You can have the most gripping plot in the world but bore a viewer to tears with pesky details like uninteresting characters and lack of tension. The International threatens to do that, and often succeeds.
I like a good helping of global paranoia, and The International certainly serves it up: imagine a major bank rumored to be involved in Third World disputes and arms dealing, not to mention assassinating anyone who gets too close to finding the truth. Leave it to Clive Owen and an extended cameo from Naomi Watts to “blow this thing wide open,” to regurgitate one of the film’s many pre-chewed clichés.
There are elements reminiscent of 1970s paranoia thrillers like The Conversation and Network (right down to Owen breaking open things to find surveillance bugs in them), but The International lacks the color which made those films so fun to watch. What’s most memorable about the above mentioned films? The characters. We remember the frenzied Howard Beale as he gives that impassioned speech and gradually descends into delusion. We remember Harry Caul growing increasingly paranoid and unhinged, all leading to that wonderful scene where he destroys everything in his house for fear of being bugged himself.
Clearly Owen is meant to be some kind of loose cannon in the vein of those characters, but we don’t get a sense of it save for some understandable outbursts to superiors and a few questionable practices, not to mention some references to his checkered past. It’s a blessing that Owen plays this role because he sells it despite the script’s lack of bite. It’s almost as if the film was afraid of making Owen alienate the audience. So, instead of the highly contentious character we need (especially when he goes “off the grid” to finish the job a la another great 1970s Gene Hackman character), we get all the signifiers and little of the fun.
Without Owen being allowed to fire at all cylinders, the first act of the film proves dreadfully dull as we repeatedly watch him find a clue, get stalled in his efforts by various parties (his Interpol superiors, bank officials, local police) and shout a bit. The closer Owen and the audience get to the conspiracy (and, by association, danger), the more gripping it gets. The sheer amount of time he spends following people around says more about Clive Owen as an actor than it does the film.
Surely the director’s track record would mean that he brought some style to this film, right? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Tom Tykwer’s direction is slick but subdued, surprising considering his notoriety for films like Run Lola Run. It’s a shame, because the best scene in the movie is when he gets to use his frenetic style in a shootout at the Guggenheim (reread that a few times and let it sink in). The film’s atonal piano soundtrack disappears in favor of an orchestra of gunshots and shattering glass and suddenly everything’s exciting.
To sum up: rent the DVD, skip to the shootout, remove disc, do a double feature of Children of Men and The French Connection. Allow the films to blur together in your memory. Then add three to my printed rating.
by Danny Djeljosevic