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Louis hates a desk-job, in The International


The International
cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, and Brian F. O'Byrne

director: Tom Tykwer

114 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony DVD Region 2 retail
[released 6 July]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Walking from the scene of his clandestine meeting with a corporate whistleblower, a Berlin policeman hardly notices the stranger hurrying past, behind his back. Just a moment later, the officer stops, pukes, and falls down dead at the kerb: poisoned by injection, the victim of an expert assassin...

Wall Street (1987) meets Enemy Of The State (1998) in political thriller, The International, from the maker of cult favourite Run Lola Run (1998). Since his roles in Sin City, Children Of Men, and Shoot 'Em Up, British leading man Clive Owen has become quite the action hero. Starring in such a gloomy, and remarkably savage, picture as The International maintains Owen's status as dramatic actor in a film that's wholly different in theme and content to Owen's romantic adventures as a spy in Tony Gilroy's Duplicity.

Essentially a zeitgeist-surfing blend of criminal investigation and brutal espionage, The International delivers uneasily-relevant plotting concerning the profits of war, and the unconscionable levels of power wielded by a corrupt multinational banking system becomes possibly yet more disturbing than any degree of terrorism, framing a question: what's worst about modern times, living in fear of a potential nightmare scenario, or the actuality of being enslaved by debt?
Sometimes a man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.

An ex-Scotland yard detective turned Interpol agent, obsessed Louis Salinger (Clive Owen, grim as an income tax auditor), teams up with bold New York assistant D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts, not given enough to do here), to build a legal case against crooked German bank IBBC. There's much talk of vaguely illicit brokerages of arms deals, using the trading of replacement components for obsolete missiles to gain control of supplying Chinese guns to African rebels. Our dogged lone hero and supportive, but officially-restrained, heroine cannot overcome the unwillingness of their superiors to prosecute the bank. It seems the only way to beat the system is to break the law...

However, this is not a standard chase movie with typical displays of shiny gadgets; it's a conspiracy of numbers, corporate facts, accountancy figures, and shrewd yet utterly amoral business planning. Camera placement and movement makes clever use of architecture in various locations to enhance the broodingly oppressive mood while the detailed conspiracy unfolds like a diseased flower. Tensions build toward a brilliantly choreographed shootout when Louis, with help from the NYPD, track a hitman strolling through busy Manhattan streets, and their impromptu stakeout at the Guggenheim museum suddenly explodes into a lengthy gunfight, for which the filmmakers almost demolish a copy of the famous building's white spiral rotunda.

Despite the climactic feel of that big set-piece, there's still further conflict lined up for a showdown in Turkey. Will our hero finally cross the line to be judge, jury and executioner? If much of the film sounds routine and some of its main plot elements are blithely hackneyed or unbelievably contrived, the single-mindedness of director Tom Tykwer's vision, and the belligerent determination of Owen's character lift the material from low expectations of second-rate Bourne antics to commensurate play on transatlantic vigilantism.

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