ARTS

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February 17, 2009

Despite Guggenheim shoot-out, International proves bankrupt in originality

In The International, director Tom Tykwer paints a globe-hopping tableau overwhelmed with the intimidating high-concept architecture of his museum, train station, and office building film sets. Planted like modern fortresses among the grimy, overcast cityscapes, Tykwer’s visuals capture the impersonal might of the edifices of banking headquarters and corporate offices. But these impressive sights serve a story that never transcends the thriller genre.The story starts when Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) witnesses his partner go down with a heart attack mere seconds after meeting an informant with evidence against the sinister International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC). Salinger suspects foul play. As it turns out, a man who casually bumped into Salinger’s partner in the parking lot also delivered a poisonous injection to the back of his neck, rapidly inducing a heart attack to cover up the crime. With several years’ experience investigating the IBBC at Scotland Yard and Interpol, Salinger knows their schemes. And, just as he expects, the informant also ends up dead not much later.With assistance from the informant’s widow, Salinger and New York district attorney Ellie Whitman (Naomi Watts), who is investigating IBBC’s New York dealings, travel to Milan to track a lead on an Italian head of a weapons defense organization—who also happens to be running for prime minister. He offers information about IBBC which confirms their suspicions, but before he can provide them with the hard incriminating evidence they need, he is assassinated by an IBBC hired killer (Brian F. O‘Byrne)—the same man who killed Salinger’s partner. With nothing solid to nail the bank with just yet, Salinger and Whitman follow the assassin’s trail to New York, believing that if they can catch the assassin, he’ll then give up everything on the IBBC, and then they can finally bring the judicial system down on the bank.Tykwer’s architectural shots convey the imperviousness of Salinger’s corporate foe. The steely exteriors of IBBC’s corporate offices crowd the frame, their cavernous interiors full of silent space and cold marble floors. His sweeping shots of Berlin, Milan, Lyon, New York, and Istanbul convey the scope and variety of international cities, whether it’s labyrinthine European streets or the high rises puncturing the New York sky.At the climax, Salinger tracks the assassin (with in-focus glam shots of Citibank and Chase branches on the streets of New York) to the Guggenheim Museum, where a blazing gunfight erupts. In order to make it out alive, Salinger and the assassin team up against a horde of automatic weapons-wielding contract killers that the IBBC has hired. It’s quite a showpiece and is the only genuine thrill throughout the whole movie. As beautifully shot as the film is, it drags until this point, a bland entry in the globe-trotting corporate- thriller genre. Apart from its stunning locales, the film is generic.Although Clive Owen injects as much sincerity as he can manage into his paranoid and downtrodden performance as a man at his wits’ end, the positive elements of the film are swallowed by the epigrammatic dialogue and lack of character development. It’s too busy with leveling judgments against corporate banks and upholding the procedural cat-and-mouse game for it to spend any time swimming in deep waters; it’s uncomfortable in the shallow end, but that’s where formulaic films like this reside.