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February 15, 2009

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Movie Review – The International (2009)

by HELEN GEIB

However you think The International is going to end, it doesn’t end that way. The finale is only one of a number of unexpected developments in this ingeniously plotted thriller. That the twists and turns don’t come at the expense of plausibility or coherence is one of the film’s many pleasures.

The acting is another. The always interesting Clive Owen stars as Louis Salinger, an Interpol agent dedicated to bringing down the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC), a financial institution in appearance, organized crime syndicate in operation. Naomi Watts has the principal supporting role of Eleanor Whitman, an assistant district attorney for New York City who teams up with Salinger in common cause against the IBBC. Armin Mueller-Stahl and Ulrich Thomsen play higher-ups at the bank. Brian O’Byrne and Luca Barbareschi make an impact in small, but significant roles as, respectively, a contract killer and an Italian industry magnate.

The less said about the plot of a thriller the better; the element of surprise counts for a lot in this genre (particularly when the surprises are actually surprising). I will just mention two things that contributed significantly to my enjoyment of the film. The first is more accurately described as the absence of an expected development: there is no love story. Watts in the role of the detective hero’s partner is an example of gender-blind casting. The character is familiar, but writing the character as a woman– without a determinative romance plot– is unusual and welcome.

The second will not come as new information to anyone who saw the trailer: Salinger and Whitman’s investigation takes them to several countries, including the US, Turkey, and Italy, and filming for each segment was done largely on location. The location work is a treat for the armchair traveler, a considerable merit in itself. It is also a narrative and visual expression of the film’s manifesto, underlying everything that happens, that all of the world’s political and economic systems are interconnected, inextricably tied into a single, force-for-evil financial system.

The International was directed by acclaimed German director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run, The Princess and the Warrior). Conversations are filmed in shot/reverse-shot, putting the focus on the actors where it belongs. When Owen and Mueller-Stahl’s characters sit across a table from each other to fight with words, intrusive camerawork would be worse than unnecessary. Tykwer puts the location filming to excellent account. The gun battle in the atrium of the Guggenheim Museum is worth the price of admission all by itself.

3 1/2 stars


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  1. doc
    Feb 16 2009

    For most of the 20th century, the International was both a stirring worker’s anthem and a common name for the Communist party’s organized efforts to expand from their Russian base. The film makers ask, through a key character and some clever plotting, what has become of that great vision and of the participants who devoted much of their political lives to it. It’s a reminder of what had, and had not, accomplished when the Cold War came to its end: a subtext that elevates this film above most thrillers.

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