'The International' is a movie about an all-powerful, ruthless bank involved in nefarious dealings and willing to stop at nothing to achieve its goals. It's a clever premise, inspired by actual events, but unfortunately Columbia Pictures released Tom Tykwer's action-espionage thriller this past winter when the banking industry was at its most impotent. Unable to cover the cost of a cup of coffee, let alone mountainous piles of debt, hallowed financial institutions either folded their tents or limped to the nearest government bailout booth. Such items as bartering for high-stakes weapons and assassinating anyone who might muck up their plans for global domination were surely way down on their to-do lists.
Although current economic and political conditions shouldn't influence the perception of a film, they invariably do, so it's a bit difficult to swallow the story 'The International' feeds us, unless we believe such renegade ventures helped spawn the current crisis. Still, this slick thriller produced in the 'Bourne' vein is entertaining enough, often stimulating the mind and senses with a complex plot and one dynamite action scene, a no-holds-barred shootout in New York's Guggenheim Museum that features a torrent of bullets and deluge of shattered glass. The rest of the film can't match the adrenaline rush this sequence provides, but a scruffy Clive Owen and intense Naomi Watts try their damnedest to keep us on the train, and for the most part, they succeed.
When Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen) witnesses the murder of a colleague who was set to expose a link between the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) and organized crime, he embarks on a breathless globe-trotting odyssey that takes him to Milan, New York, Berlin, and Istanbul in pursuit of evidence. Along the way, he and New York Assistant D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Watts) discover more disturbing information about IBBC's motives and practices, which include money laundering, arms dealing, and murder-for-hire, as well as the bank's coldblooded tactics. Yet IBBC knows how to cover its tracks, and the lack of any concrete proof may shut down the investigation before Salinger and Whitman crack the case.
'The International' is one of those films where people speak in hushed tones and soberly discuss hyper-critical issues with square-jawed intensity, and we hang on their every word even though in the back of our mind we're fully aware it's all a bunch of bunk. For beneath its deathly serious, self-important veneer, 'The International' is just another silly action-thriller, albeit one that's well-paced, tension-filled, and nicely shot. And to its credit, it's not for the lazy. The movie requires rigorous attention to follow all the obtuse connections and shady characters that slip in and out of the convoluted story, and though I hung in there pretty well for most of it, I began to lose the thread toward the end.
A fine international cast, however, keeps us involved, with Owen and Watts heading the charge. Owen makes a terrific action hero, combining blustery bravado with dry humor and sensitivity. But don't let his high-toned British accent fool you; Owen is a man's man, a regular bloke with a rumpled look and hound dog eyes who relishes a fistfight and gun battle, and can sneer with the best of them. Although he can be suave and sophisticated when the role requires it, he's a bargain basement James Bond here, and the role flatters him.
I must admit, I've got a crush on Watts, and though she's quite credible as a tough, harried D.A. who juggles a husband and family, the film pretty much wastes her considerable talent. She's more of a supporting character than a lead, and though she and Owen enjoy good chemistry, it's (disappointingly) all on the up-and-up. Sure, it's refreshing to see a man and woman collaborate on a strictly professional level with nary a hint of sexual attraction, but when you've got two beautiful specimens like Owen and Watts steaming up the screen, you want them to get together, if not permanently, then at least for an animalistic roll in the hay. No such luck here; Eric Warren Singer's script is all business, and packed with enough confusing clutter to make the extra distraction of a romance unnecessary.
Though hardly memorable, 'The International' is fun while it lasts. The mix of frenetic action and cat-and-mouse investigation feels a bit choppy at times, but Tykwer holds it all together with a pleasing visual style. This one may not get much replay – although I sure wouldn't mind watching that Guggenheim shootout a few times – but for a weeknight rental, you could do a lot worse.
Crisp and clean is the best way to describe this 1080p effort from Sony. The muted palette often lends the image an antiseptic look, but some moments of vivid color creep in, and wonderful depth often gives the picture stunning dimensionality. Top-flight clarity showcases the international settings, which possess beautiful vibrancy even in drab weather conditions, and close-ups nicely accent fine facial features, such as Owen's omnipresent stubble and Watts' beauty. Fleshtones look natural, too, from Owen's weathered olive skin to Watts' creamy complexion, and details, even at far distances, are easily discernible.
Blacks are satisfactory and whites are well graded, which keeps the Guggenheim scene from looking like a washout. A dusting of grain maintains a film-like feel, and no posturization, artifacting, or digital noise mars the presentation. This is another good effort from Sony, one that immerses us in the action from the opening frames and keeps us there until the end.
Action films demand a muscular mix, and 'The International' complies with a bold Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that showers us with distinct accents and vivid effects. The opening downpour so marvelously envelops, you might just fumble for an umbrella, but more subtle atmospherics later on possess equal clarity and seamlessly dance across the rear speakers. The Guggenheim shootout is an audiophile's dream, packed with razor sharp gunfire and an orgy of shattering glass. The wide expanse of highs and lows pushes the limits of the dynamic scale, but the track handles the challenge, pumping out a steady stream of lifelike, well-delineated signals. Bass is substantive on occasion, but not overpowering, and dialogue, even when whispered, is always easy to understand. Tykwer also wrote the music score for this film, and it enjoys marvelous fidelity and makes full use of the expansive sound field.
A comprehensive supplement lineup enhances this disc, which will please both the movie's fans and those interested in film production. Almost all the material is in high-def – a nice bonus.
Though the plot of 'The International' may not be quite as relevant as it might have been a year or so ago, Tom Tykwer's financial thriller still takes us on quite a ride, thanks to slick direction, a humdinger of an action sequence, and fine performances from Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Crisp video and audio heighten the tension, and a plethora of supplemental material examines the film from almost every aspect imaginable. 'The International' may not eclipse other movies in its genre, but it's definitely worth a rental.
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