The Good: Pacing at beginning, Realism in crowd shots in Guggenheim shoot-out, Concept
The Bad: Nothing astonishingly good on the acting or character fronts
The Basics: Despite a good start, The International is terribly slow, not tense and poorly presented making for a rather dull film.
There is something to be said for long, complicated, nihilistic movies. I actually tend to like such things and before I went to see The International, my thought was that if anything I was biased toward the movie, save that I felt I had seen the entire film from watching the trailer. Sadly, that analysis holds as shots from the final scene are included in every trailer for the movie I saw. Fortunately, by the time this under-two-hour production finally ground to a halt (I'd swear it was at least six hours long, the pacing was so off), I had plenty of other reasons to not enjoy it.
My dad has a classification for some movies, "guy night out movies" and before the men out there start planning their man-dates for The International, it is far too slow to qualify as a brainless men's movie. Unfortunately, it is also not fast enough to be considered a thriller, not complicated enough to be a decent conspiracy theory film and lacks the emotional resonance to be a great drama. In other words, after the six or two hours this movie takes, the viewer is left with very little. The trailer, in this case, may show everything, but it keeps the movie to its essentials and delivers a film that full film, alas, does not.
Coming off a secret rendezvous with a top official within a corrupt bank, INTERPOL agent Louis Salinger's partner Schumer is killed, the victim of a toxin designed to mimic a heart attack. Within a day, Andre Clement, the banker he was meeting with, dies in a car crash. Returning to INTERPOL, Salinger discovers his house, his partner's house and his boss's house tapped, all because they are investigating the International Bank Of Business And Credit. In New York City, District Attorney Eleanor Whitman is called in, as Schumer's contact with Clement was a big part of her attempts to make a case against the IBBC.
The IBBC, as it turns out, is buying cheap Chinese missiles and selling them in Africa and the Middle East, contracting with companies for guidance systems for the missiles elsewhere. Their purpose, as one of the heads of the bank reveals to a client, is to control the debt such conflicts inevitably create. As Salinger and Whitman track an assassin of an Italian politician whose company stopped playing ball with the IBBC back to New York City, the old guard and new guard at the IBBC converge to keep their secrets safe and their bank solvent.
The International is plagued by a number of problems, but the one that inevitably sinks the movie is that the pacing is terribly off. Instead of depicting any sort of clever uncovering of a deep conspiracy, the movie starts as a fast-paced murder investigation which quickly points the finger at the IBBC (correctly) and the motive for the bank is revealed. The rest of the movie simply depicts how the two sides do battle after the murder. It is a long, drawn out process and it lacks any genuine emotional resonance.
The reason for the lack of intrigue or even interest portrayed by The International has to be that none of the characters are empathetic, none of the acting is particularly stellar and the entirety of the plot is revealed early on in expositional conversations between Salinger and Whitman. As a result, after the first half hour, most of what happens in the movie is done and the rest is a repetitive hunt for the next link in the chain.
This is not to say the film is lacking in any merit. In the latter half of the movie, there is a shoot-out at the Guggenheim that is exciting and well-presented. In fact, if anything, The International illustrates something seldom seen in spy films or movies with shoot-outs; collateral damage. Salinger and a target end up in the Guggenheim and a shoot-out ensues with at least six thugs with automatic weapons. It being the Guggenheim, there are people walking around looking at art when the shooting begins. They, realistically, freak out.
As well, Armin Mueller-Stahl gives his usual incredible performance, this time as a German Communist named Wexler. Now working for the IBBC, Wexler is cold, calculating and brilliant as a consultant to the upper echelons of the bank. Mueller-Stahl plays him with realistic depth and his quiet body language in the meetings his character has with others from his generation is both profound and utterly realistic. Mueller-Stahl has a dignity that he plays that gives Wexler instant credibility.
Unfortunately, he is playing the only character who arguably has such credibility or realism to him. Clive Owen, who plays a decent heavy, is not bad as Salinger. Unfortunately, Salinger is not written all that well. We are told through pretty blase dialogue that two years prior Salinger left Scotland Yard after a case against the IBBC he was working on fell apart and that is how he came to work for INTERPOL. But Salinger has some streaks that are terribly unprofessional and dialogue - "You know just about shit" - that "reads" as entirely wrong for his character or any investigator of his stature and position. In other words, his character sounds like a Hollywood construct of an INTERPOL agent as opposed to someone who actually resembles a cold, intelligent professional.
Even worse, unfortunately, is Naomi Watts as Whitman. Watts is given the role of sidekick and woman working to build a legal case against the IBBC. It is a fine idea, but she is mispresented in the film, portraying a character much more akin to an investigative journalist than an attorney. As a result, her character lacks spark and motivation and half the dialogue that comes out of her mouth is either canned (cliche) or presented flatly with the wrong affect from what the intent of the words is.
It is worth noting that The International utilizes pretty much every cliche reversal in the book, though there is something refreshing about writer Eric Warren Singer not insulting the audience with a final "someone we thought was good is bad" type reversal. But the movie follows a pretty predictable flow as leads are consistently killed off and Salinger and Whitman move on to the next contact at the IBBC.
But the pacing is what sinks this movie. After a little while, the pace becomes stiflingly slow and the viewer has already been told the big picture, so we wait to see if the plan of the IBBC either unravels or succeeds and it is not an interesting presentation of it. In fact, the trailer set the movie up with a sense of consequence the actual film does not have; the trust between those who use banks and what banks do with that money is entirely lacking. Salinger and Whitman somewhat witlessly gripe about the bank buying and selling products, but the whole idea that average citizens are somehow funding terrorism and revolutions without their knowledge is never explored in the movie.
It is too bad, too; with government bailouts and skyrocketing debt, the human equation has never been a more important or compelling aspect to play with. As it is, the human equation in The International only seems to factor as a function of which human will end up as the next corpse. And for that, there are plenty of other, better movies than this one.
For other films with Clive Owen, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Children Of Men
The Pink Panther
The Bourne Identity
For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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