I came to 'The International' not knowing much more about it other than the fact that it starred Clive Owen, whose performance I'd been impressed by in 'Children of Men'. I knew that the busy Mr Owen had been in the running for the role of James Bond just prior to 'Casino Royale' and I guess that I wanted to see something that would give an indication of just how good he would have been, or could possibly still be, given the opportunity.
I was hoping for a picture that would intrigue me enough from its opening sequence to want to stay with it through to the end - and in this I wasn't disappointed.
I'm not really a fan of 'pop video' type productions or, to put it another way, movies that pander to only one area of the cinema going public. I'm not too keen on the wobbly cam approach; I don't like sequences that are cut too quickly as I like to see what's happening in action sequences. I like films that take time to tell the story well and I feel that movies that leave you guessing also leave you with an unsatisfied feeling - a bit like a 'nouvelle cuisine' meal used to as it only kept you going until the pies arrived.
Well folks, if you feel the same way, then 'The International' is your kind of movie.
The opening sequence has Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), a former policeman now working for Interpol, about to get the lowdown on a dubious Bank that's been under investigation by a colleague. Before this can happen, Salinger sees his colleague just across the street clutch his arm and collapse. On racing to be by his side, Salinger is hit by a passing vehicle. Cut to stark white on black titles with an ominous bass track.
The interestingly named bank, iBBC (sound like BCCI to you?), has its fingers in a lot of pies of a fishy nature including the one that has raised interest, the purchase of missile guidance systems. It turns out that the bank wants to help finance a military coup so it can have a say in the running of the country - naturally, to its own advantage. Anyone who gets in the way, is removed.
Once Salinger finds obstacles are being put in his way, like "clerical errors" in statements, he becomes like a dog with a bone. We see the penny begin to drop and it's clear that Salinger just isn't about to put up with this kind of nonsense even though it may put his life and the lives of others in danger.
The plot unfolds and we're with Salinger, working it out every step of the way. It would be wrong to say that the audience is spoon fed as you do have to pay attention to what's occurring or be left behind. I found it a pretty involving tale, given that we're all willing to believe a story about corrupt, crooked banks these days.
Clive Owen's performance is fairly minimalist in as much as it doesn't really test him as an actor. His reactions are kept small, so as not to overplay the big close-ups where his stubble does most of the acting.
Naomi Watts as Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman, seems to be along just to brighten the screen up for a while as her character doesn't really do much. When it looks like the going is about to get tough, Salinger sends her home.
Unlike a Bond movie, the action in 'The International' is not of the Tom & Jerry variety. When people get shot we see the blood and gore. It doesn't look like tomato sauce either. It's gritty and grim.
When the bank briefs a hit man to take out Salinger, our hero is hot on his trail and a stunning showdown takes place at the Guggenheim Museum. When it looks like the hitman might fail in his task, a team of marksmen turn up to wipe out the hitman. At this point, Salinger and his foe join forces to deal with a common enemy. The Guggenheim sequence is most likely the high point of the movie for many people as the long running gun battle takes place amid the clinical, stylish surroundings and bullets thud into walls as well as bodies. At one point Salinger puts his finger in a bullet hole in the neck of the hitman in an effort to stem the flow of blood and keep him alive. Stray bullets find their way into the glass architecture of the building with shards going everywhere. I won't reveal the ending of this particular sequence but it's one of which James Bond would have been proud.
The realism of this sequence is a tribute to the work of production designer Uli Hanisch, as the Guggenheim was in fact a massive set built inside a warehouse. It looked so authentic that I found myself imagining the plasterer filling in all the bullet holes after shooting had taken place in an attempt to hand it back to its owners in an 'as they found it' condition. I just could not believe that a production of apparently modest proportions would have had the budget to construct such a massive set.
As for the Director, Tom Tykwer, I have to admit to some admiration for the way he held my interest through the unravelling of the plot and told the story in a conventional way. Though there is no fancy camerawork or trendy editing, the locations look fabulous seen through the viewfinder of Cinematographer Frank Griebe, with wide locating shots that put you in place, waiting for the next scene to be played out.
All in all, 'The International' has a lot going for it and a good deal to offer its audience. The only caveat being that said audience would require an attention span greater than that possessed by the MTV generation. That is to say, longer than a ferret on steroids.
But what of Clive Owen? Would he make a good Bond? You bet he would, more in the style of Fleming's original interpretation of the character, but he has all the attributes required for the part - except one. Q branch would need to supply him with a razor!
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