The International (2009)

The trailer for “The International” made it seem a thriller for our time: bank corruption, money lost, customers screwed. Turns out it’s a thriller for the exact opposite of our time. The main character, an Interpol agent, spends most of his time trying to bring down an all-powerful but corrupt bank, while we’re spending most of ours trying to prop up our weak (but corrupt) banks. Either way, I suppose, the banks are killing us.

The film’s not quite there. We travel the world: Berlin, Lyon, Istanbul, Milan. Director Tom Tykwer shoots agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) entering, and dwarfed by, these gigantic financial institutions the way Raoul Walsh filmed Joel McRae against a vast western backdrop in “Colorado Territory.” The great set-piece is a thrilling shoot-’em-up down the circular floors of the Guggenheim in New York, while Armin Mueller-Stahl, playing the inside man with a conscience, gives us his usual solid performance and delivers the film’s best line: “This is the difference between truth and fiction; fiction has to make sense.”

Unfortunately, this fiction makes little sense — perhaps reflecting its difficult birth and German/Hollywood parentage. It’s too slow to be an action thriller and not cerebral enough to be an intellectual thriller. The teaming up of Owen’s Interpol agent and Naomi Watts’ Brooklyn D.A. begins and ends nowhere. Neither is much of a character. You get a greater sense of the villains and their family lives than the heroes and theirs.

But the biggest problem is the disconnect. Here’s the film’s tagline: “They control your money. They control your government. They control your life. And everybody pays.”

Well, everyone’s certainly paying now.

—February 16, 2009

© 2009 Erik Lundegaard