Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl
I have this strange feeling that "The International," the latest film from director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola, Run"), could have been a fantastic film.
The subject matter is certainly timely, even though the storyline is actually based loosely upon the 1991 BCCI banking scandal.
In "The International," the Luxembourg-based International Bank of Business and Credit is the bad guy but it becomes crystal clear that they are but a single, admittedly behemoth, player in a financial world gone mad.
So then, with a storyline so relevant and timely why does "The International" feel so dated and predictable?
The truth is that Clive Owen, as an Interpol agent named Louis Salinger, almost singlehandedly makes "The International" worth watching.
Naomi Watts, as Manhattan assistant D.A. Eleanor Whitman and a sympathetic supporter to Salinger, nearly sabotages Owens' performance with a bland, monotonous delivery that is almost cringeworthy.
Salinger and Whitman have tried for years to bring down IBBC, convinced that the financial giant is dabbling in international terrorism by selling small arms to third-world countries.
Action films have never, and I mean never, been my favorite cinematic genre. Therefore, I expect to be surprised. With "The International," I was never surprised.
Within moments, I identified the hitman.
Within moments, I knew three people who would die in the film. I was correct.
Within moments, I knew how "The International" would end and, at times, could even mouth the words to be spoken before the words were spoken.
I'm not kidding.
Yet, Tom Tykwer still makes "The International" watchable.
Being an international film, "The International" is certainly beautiful to behold as we travel from New York to Milan to Berlin to Turkey and beyond. The exotic locales are beautifully captured and Tykwer manages to keep the film involving despite it's utter predictability.
"The International" really picks up pace once Tykwer gets a large portion of the plot exposition out of the way and allows the action to play out. From a magnificently shot scene in New York's Guggenheim Museum (or a reasonable facsimile, anyway) through an intriguing came of cat-and-mouse between Salinger and the nondescript hitman (Brian F.O'Byrne), "The International" at least modestly works because you leave the theatre realizing that the world around you is bigger, more corrupt, scarier and less safe than you really want to believe.
Clive Owen could, and does at times, play Salinger in his sleep. Owen's Salinger is weathered, weary, paranoid and, yet, completely relentless in his pursuit of justice. He seems to fully realize that he may not survive this pursuit and the task itself may be impossible. Yet, it is a task for which he feels infinitely bound.
Despite Naomi Watts' numbingly bland performance, "The International" also benefits from O'Byrne's serenely mesmerizing turn as the seemingly invisible assassin. Armin Mueller-Stahl also turns in a solid performance as a disturbing mentor to IBBC's CEO (Ulrich Thomsen).
Despite the enormous plot holes and distractingly weak performance from Naomi Watts, "The International" deserves a slight recommendation for Tykwer's inventive, perfectly choreographed action sequences, cinematography that is often dizzyingly beautiful and the trio of performances led by Clive Owen.
Far more satisfying than Tykwer's last film, "Perfume," "The International" is an intelligent, well photographed action flick is likely to open to modest box-office success followed by a far more successful run on home video.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic