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The International

The International

This film is so boring it made me appreciate architecture

dir: Tom Tykwer


What the fuck happened to the guy who made Run Lola Run?

Here’s your answer: He’s making shitty, ludicrous flicks that sap the will to live of any audience anywhere.

The International is fucking unbelievable. It is a Bourne Identity – Supremacy flick without Jason Bourne or Matt Damon, but, perversely, with Clive Owen, who was in the first Bourne flick anyway. Recursive much?

So imagine: someone wants to make a Bourne flick but can’t afford Matt Damon. Who’s next on the list, oh, we can’t afford them, how about, no, further down, okay, Clive Owen and Naomi Watts? Brilliant.

And of course you need some German people in it, so why not hire German hot stud superstar Armin Mueller-Stahl, who’s 80 if he’s a day over 16?

Sole direction given to Clive Owen in this: “Um, act the way you did in Children of Men, but don’t run around as much.”

Clive Owen roles can be divided successfully into two groups: the ones where he has stubble, and overacts wildly, and the once where he’s clean shaven, and doesn’t overact as much. This role is clearly one of the former rather than the latter.

Naomi Watts doesn’t really have any differentiation between roles, and strides around with “concern” face the entire time here. Is she credible as a district attorney trying to bring down one of the biggest banks in the world? Maybe, if her plan is to wear them down by asking them continuously to make monthly donations to Amnesty International whilst on the street corner outside their headquarters.

The most fascinating element for me is that the story is actually based on a real bank, on a real scandal that engulfed the financial world back in the 80s and 90s. An actual bank, called BCCI, being the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, did most of the stuff that’s alleged in this film. Money laundering for the Medellin drug cartels, handling the accounts of terrorist groups, acting as a conduit for arms dealing, all sorts of nefarious shit.

None of that fascination carries through, because there’s nothing credible about this version of the tale. The scale of BCCI’s operations and subsequent collapse made it the Enron of its day: a rich tale of arrogance, Olympian-scale corruption and greed. Here it’s just a ridiculous evil bank that hires hitmen to cover its tracks, and has people at the very top of the organisation deciding what people to kill in order to keep the investigators that it’s already paid off at bay.

I have no problem with espionage thrillers and the like, in fact when they’re well done I love ‘em, and when they’re of the James Bondish variety I can enjoy them even when they’re thoroughly ludicrous. But when they try to be both grounded in reality and over-the-fucking top, it creates a cognitive dissonance I can’t get over.

Any review worth its salt mentions the shoot out at the Guggenheim as being a high point of the flick, and I’m not one to disagree. The problem is that, as much as I enjoyed seeing the Frank Gehry-designed museum in all its distinctive glory, the notion of a ruthlessly efficient and amoral international bank sending a hit squad to kill someone in such a public location, what with the thousands of witnesses and all, smacks of some really dumb writing choices.

Hack screenwriter 1: But it doesn’t make any sense!
Hack screenwriter 2: We need an action scene. 120 minutes of Clive Owen grunting out dialogue to Naomi Watts, and Naomi Watts looking concerned and saying “I’m worried about you” is too much for any audience to handle. Let’s shoot some shit up.
Hack screenwriter 1: You’re right. Let’s have Clive Owen shoot a million henchmen like it’s an NRA carnival.

It’s a really well done action scene, it just makes no sense in any way, shape or form. A corporate / white collar crime / financial intrigue caper that has the heads of banks meeting with assassins is ludicrous. It’s all well and good to conjecture that powerful people can off who they want in third world backwaters and such, or that BCCI funded wars and such and silenced critics with actual bullets, but a bank whose senior executives meet with assassins and expose the bank to further risk by having hit squads shoot a few dozen people in Manhattan in broad daylight is insane.

Banks like this don’t need to hire assassins to kill people. They ignore criticism, discredit critics and, at worst, shut people up with lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits. When they’re being pursued by governments, they invest strategically or threaten to divest from nations, change their charters or their headquarters, or blame all corporate malfeasance on rogue operators (hello, Barings Bank!)

They don’t have CEOs chatting about assassination targets, or have their fixers meet in public with guys who’s job it is to kill Justice Department officials or Interpol agents. Russian organised crime kills motherfuckers dead. Banks fuck up your credit rating.

I couldn’t really get over this construct I had in my head, even knowing as I did that BCCI did stuff similar to this if not worse. It made the flick hard to enjoy, but not to watch. The acting is all it’s meant to be, in fact, is pretty good except for Naomi Watts’s inerrant insipidness. Armin Mueller-Stahl is a class act in anything he’s in, and brings a weary wisdom to his unbelievable role. He has possibly the only interesting conversation in the entire flick, being between himself, as a former Stassi colonel, and Clive Owen’s character Louis Salanger, an obsessive Interpol agent determined at any cost to bring ICCB down. Their conversation essentially amounts to Salinger goading the former communist hardliner into dealing a serious blow to capitalism by helping him bring down one of the world’s biggest banks.

The Baader-Meinhof group would be so proud.

The resolution of the flick is even more insulting to the intellect than the premise and the earlier excursions into action-for-the-sake-of-action sequences. Suffice to say that as resentful of multiple deus ex machinas as a viewer could be at a film’s conclusion, it’s even more insulting when it ends up being mafia ex machina that lead’s to the flick’s solution. Such stupidity doesn’t say much about the concepts of justice and international standards of law that the flick pretends to be pursuing, which means that ultimately this flick, for all its pretentiousness, possesses the moral nuance and complexity of Charles Bronson in Death Wish.

Look, I wish I could cut the flick more slack, since Tykwer, I feel, is a great director. I loved Perfume: Story of a Murderer so much that it’s probably one of my favourite films of the last ten years, and I still have a soft spot for Run Lola Run. On some level I imagine that Tykwer doesn’t want to be making the same shit all the time, and wanted to show Hollywood that he could make big budget action crowd-pleasers so as to not deprive himself of a potential hefty payday down the track.

Problem is, this isn’t a crowd-pleaser, nor is it as intelligent as it thinks it is, so it fails on both counts. I liked some of the locations used, seeing as it has some nice footage of Istanbul and the aforementioned museum, but that’s the stuff of nice postcards, not decent movies.

Nothing can save this stupid, stupid movie. Damn shame; damn, retarded shame.

4 times Clive Owen really needs to do something new with his life out of 10

“Well, this is the difference between truth and fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” – it helps to be entertaining, as well – The International.