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.