The International (2009)
Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) joins forces with New York prosecutor Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) to put an end to a powerful bank's funding of terrorism. As they follow the money from Germany to Italy to New York to Turkey, Salinger and Whitman find their own lives are at risk from those who will stop at nothing to protect their interests.
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The International Theatrical Review
The movie is billed as an "action drama" which it fulfills by having slow, investigation scenes inter cut with violence. I was mystified by the vision of the movie until I read that apparently suffering from bad previews, the studio held back the release in order to punch it up with more violence, including a several million dollar infusion which was used to build a scale replica of the inside of New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and then shoot it to pieces for running gun-battle scene.
As a drama, the movie feels a little light. Owen does a decent job as a driven if down-on-his-luck investigator who has tilted at this windmill before and lost (the witnesses vanish or die). Watts, as always, looks good and is especially compelling if she has to look wistful. The story itself, which I will touch on in a moment, is certainly competent and the plot is clear enough and makes enough sense to keep us nodding along.
Where I think The International fails is that it just does not "deliver". Despite the surprising scenes of violence -- the shootout is extended and bloody -- it lacks impact. Part of this is that the push back from a 2007 release brought us to the current banking crisis which makes banks -- even evil ones -- less directly scary. Nothing can stop these guys? How about a decline in housing prices? I bet that stops them cold.
The other problem is that the investigative aspects are no better than what we see on CSI on a weekly basis; consider that a major clue to identifying a key person hinges on their footprint being a ultra unique one, if the guy had been wearing size 9 1/2 Reeboks, the story would stop cold. One thing that is good is that while coincidence sometimes works for the characters, and sometimes against them, it never feels quite like we are watching a real investigation and always like we are watching a movie version. Where other serious-style movies may be dull (The Constant Gardner, I am looking at you) they, at least, usually maintain a more stringent air of plausibility.
That doesn't mean there aren't some good scenes. There is a part I love where the main characters, at a key getaway point, are closed in, and then just sort of bare face their way through it, without much comment. That felt like real life. Although Owen and Watts have a professional relationship, there is just enough chemistry to keep us interested. I didn't feel like the movie was manipulative -- just that the drama bits weren't especially strong, and the action bits didn't quite fit in.
I also find the habitual showing of the climax or near-climax in the trailer to be utterly tiresome. It makes me not want to watch trailers, which, in turn, makes it hard to figure out what movies I am going to want to see since I cannot very well read a lot of reviews before going to see a movie that I am going to review; someone will have said what I want to say, only better! The International's trailer shows a scene very near the end which means we get to spend the whole time waiting for it. At least, unlike the freaking poster for Quarantine; they do not show the dead-last scene (and how it turns out), but my having the trailer stuck in my mind killed a lot of suspense for me.
In the end, The International is an interesting artifact to see how the studio worked with a property they felt wasn't turning out right. I hear that top chefs, when a recipe isn't quite working, all add butter. It is also a decent big-evil-conspiracy thriller that's up-to-date enough to be watchable. It is competently made and does not fall apart as long as you accept a certain amount of coincidence. Oh, and it has a great running gun-battle. Other action movies could take notes.
-- Marco Chacon
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