Classy Globe Hopping Thriller Pays its Dues, 16 February 2009
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
A world-weary but determined INTERPOL agent (Clive Owen) teams with a District Attorney from New York City (Naomi Watts) to bring down a corrupt bank funding arms deals in Tom Tykwer’s accidentally timely globe trotting conspiracy flick, The International.
My drab one-line plot synopsis in no way prepares you for this film’s smartly executed centerpiece, an outlandish and wildly entertaining shoot-out at the Guggenheim Museum that is both a bullet-riddled blood-soaked multi-media homage to Hitchcock and an artistic F-you to all of the mindless “shattered glass” suspense thrillers that have come down the pike in the last twenty years.
Those who have been keeping tabs on director Tom Tykwer’s career, from the frenetic originality of Run Lola Run to the ungodly weird epic sumptuousness of Perfume, might mistakenly think he was doing this one just for a paycheck. However, The International is far more ambitious than its genre conventions imply. Tykwer and his crew create an engaging and twisty film that combines the thematic elements of our modern CSI-style detective shows with the visual elements of Hitchcock’s 1950’s vista-vision thrillers. Here Tykwer’s vistas are architectural landmarks from around the world that serve as picture-perfect set-pieces and back-drops for the carefully stacked plot and action.
In a modern movie world where thrillers are currently regulated to the pulse-pounding non-stop movement of the Jason Bourne films or the dumbly torturous sentimentality of something like Taken, it’s refreshing to see a film of this ilk built in such a classical way. The International begins “in medias res” with one of those clichéd secret meetings gone wrong, then delves into a series of expository scenes that lead to a masterfully staged assassination attempt in Milan that leads to rising action (during which I overheard a viewer behind me proclaim so succinctly that the suspense was killing her) culminating in the aforementioned Guggenheim shoot-em-up that leads to falling action that ends with a roof-top chase over the lively markets of Istanbul.
In its attempt to keep the plot one step ahead of the viewers, and the viewers one step ahead of the characters, the sometimes convoluted screenplay loses its footing and sense of pace. The cast, however, is game to play against this jaw-dropping architectural scenery. No further proof is needed beyond this film to show Clive Owen would’ve been a superior James Bond. Naomi Watts, whose natural charms and beauty are felonies of their own, is a bit miscast, but she does her best with the role. The revolving door of supporting players is top notch as it goes through the requisite motions. All transmitted through the keen eyes of Tykwer, The International crackles with tension and arrives on the world scene as a refreshingly old-fashioned suspense thriller in a post-modern milieu.
“In a modern movie world where thrillers are currently regulated to the pulse-pounding non-stop movement of the Jason Bourne films or the dumbly torturous sentimentality of something like Taken, it’s refreshing to see a film of this ilk built in such a classical way”.
Indeed David indeed. I am sorry to say that I did not see this over the past weekend as I had hoped (I was appeasing my youngest daughter seeing that awful ‘Shopaholic’ and a surprisingly tedious and derivative Italian film, GOMORRAH) but your stellar and fecund appraisal here has renewed my resolve. I’ll admit I am most intrigued by the chase sequence you celebrate here:
“….. this film’s smartly executed centerpiece, an outlandish and wildly entertaining shoot-out at the Guggenheim Museum that is both a bullet-riddled blood-soaked multi-media homage to Hitchcock and an artistic F-you to all of the mindless “shattered glass” suspense thrillers that have come down the pike in the last twenty years.”
I’m very happy you made that differentiation, as so many of these set pieces have become rather mundane an redundant, but I remember a very good one last year in the French film TELL NO ONE (a well-received film, that oddly left me cold), but that was nowhere near as elaborate as the one you describe here.
You have again written a wonderful review, and one whose infectiousness has me excited again to see this. Thank you, Sir.
Sam, thanks! You should definitely check it out. I just hope I haven’t oversold it, as I’m a big fan of Tykwer and Watts.
Interesting to see you aren’t on the Gomorrah bandwagon. I’ve yet to see that, but you calling it “tedius and derivative” gives me great pause after all the positive buzz the film has received. –DHS
Thanks for the review David. I’m looking forward to this one now.
Forrest, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. –DHS
Another great review, Dave. I haven’t seen this one, but it seems something I’d enjoy. While doing research for a write I learned that Interpol agents NEVER get assigned field cases in real life. Unfortunately, learning those kind of facts inhibits me a bit from completely indulging into a thriller.
However; sounds like the action might just lure me in, anyway. Afterall – Agent Booth’s dimply smile lets me forget (on a weekly basis) that the techniques used in ‘Bones’ are sheer tommyrot.
Rebecca, Clive Owen is a rouge INTERPOL agent, and in fact, they make mention of what you describe. –DHS
They do? Now, you got me really curious. Guess tonight is movie night 🙂
Rebecca, yup. They talk about how Clive Owen’s character oversteps his boundaries and shouldn’t be doing his investigation in the field. –DHS