‘The International’ captivating and relevant

Joe Cramer

Film is a kaleidoscopic reflection of history. It can grasp onto a given moment in time, manipulate it and represent it in surprising and enlightening ways to audiences everywhere.

Take, for instance, the ways history is reflected in the films of the Cold War, from the confident and resoundingly patriotic “Rocky IV” to the ambivalent and cautionary “Fail Safe.” Both films, in jarringly different ways, represent the past threat of Communism and nuclear weapons to the American people.

Now, America faces a new crisis, one more internal and elusive than the “them vs. us” conflict of the Cold War.

America now lies in one of the gravest financial disasters in its history, leaving millions of citizens wondering where their money is going and what to do now that financial matters have been taken out of their hands.

Enter “The International,” an economic conspiracy thriller that, if not entirely believable, is nevertheless a timely and entertainingly relevant reflection of the current fear that pervades American society.

Directed by Tom Tykwer, perhaps best known for his taut and critically acclaimed German thriller “Run, Lola, Run,” “The International” tells the story of Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) as they investigate the shady dealings of a large international bank that they suspect is participating in a variety of illegal activities, such as arms-dealing and destabilizing third-world governments for profit.

At the outset of the film, Salinger has been engaged in the investigation for several years, and is becoming desperate for justice, despite the roadblocks set in his path by the ultra-powerful corporation and its connections within the governments of the world. As Salinger’s contact says, “Everyone is involved.”

His desperation soon leads him to travel outside the bounds of international law, setting up the film’s driving plotline as he treks across the globe.

“The International” opens on a shot of Clive Owen’s strong and forceful gaze, perfectly setting the tone for the film to come.

Owen once again proves to be a magnetic lead, more than capable of carrying a film. He bleeds charisma and manages to capture the frantic desperation of his character with ease.

Owen plays Salinger like James Bond but without the infuriating arrogance. He is capable, driven, yet kind of a mess.

On the other hand, Watts, easily one of today’s most talented actresses, is underused, and the chemistry between the two is not developed.

A tense scene, incidentally the high-point of the film, shared between them near the close of the film teases what could have been if the script had dedicated more time to developing the relationship between these two characters.

The most talked about scene of the film will no doubt be the gripping and nerve-wracking shootout in the Guggenheim Museum at the film’s climax. Tykwer’s taut and controlled camera-work enhances the suspence of the action scene, as Salinger and the NYPD have it out with bank-employed hitmen across the museum’s rotunda.

Complimented further by masterful pacing by Tykwer, it is a perfectly crafted example of modern action filmmaking.

The film’s conspiracy plot is both its most engaging aspect and its greatest flaw.

Screenwriter Eric Warren Singer has created a fascinating reflection of today’s culture by setting up a plot that expertly plays off of the fears and prevailing sentiments of America in this time of financial uncertainty.

The tight script expertly generates paranoia and uncertainty in the viewer.

Unfortunately it sacrifices a significant measure of believability to do so. The premise of a bank dictating national policy, all the while unchecked by any governments or international organizations, sounds preposterous on paper, and the film doesn’t do much to fix that flaw.

Just wait until you see some of the acts this corporation is allowed to get away with.

If you can check your sense of logic at the theatre entrance, however, you will find much to enjoy within this tense, timely film, crafted in the vein of the popular “Bourne” trilogy. While it is not filmmaking at its very best, it is filmmaking at its most useful and relevant.

Combining societal relevance with the exciting features of Hollywood action films, “The International” proves that there is some fun to be had in this time of economic disaster.