The ‘International’ fails to make bank

By David Orlikoff

Few film genres have had the repeated success as the action flick. In some ways this is due to the versatility of the category that supports films as diverse as Shaolin Soccer and Run Lola Run. Even down the middle, staple action series like Bond, Bourne and Terminator all have their own distinct aesthetic. There is, however, a common thread. The one thing all action movies do, aside from peddle popcorn, is move. Some have a rushing energy about them, but even the more contemplative and subdued muster a feeling of earnest which propels the plot ever forward. As obvious as that sounds, The International, by German director Tom Tykwer somehow forgets this.

The title comes from the fictitious IBBC, the International Bank of Business and Credit, which is apparently responsible for the sum total of the entire world’s ills. Clive Owen plays the disheveled Interpol agent Salinger with a Sherpa’s load of emotional baggage, no small portion of which he attributes to the financial institution. He is aided by the insignificant Naomi Watts as New York assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman, as they pursue different leads and attempt to bring down the bank.

This is where things get muddy. Tykwer has it set up where the good guys are all heavenly saints and the bad guys are loathsome demons. Admittedly, this black- and-white outlook is another mainstay of the genre, but where just-for-fun action movies like Big Trouble in Little China use magic, monsters, and mayhem to keep things interesting, Tykwer attempts to inject conflict into his stagnant story. Periodically the duo are beset by spider webs of red tape, leading to Whitman eventually blurting out, “Who gives a [crap] about jurisdiction!?” And it’s a valid question, one that somehow escaped the minds of every movie exec involved in this wretched film.

It’s hard to imagine a stereotypical producer sitting through a pitch for The International without stopping first time writer Eric Singer and asking, “Let me get this straight, you want to make an action movie about finance?” to which Singer would reply, “No, no. There’s bureaucracy too.”

This monumental problem leaves the characters dead in their tracks, and the audience asleep in their seats. The only way this film ever progressed beyond these boring barricades was through liberal use of deus ex machina. Unfortunately, this failure of a device is the least of problems plaguing The International.

Roughly 10 percent of the movie and 45 percent of the dialogue is exclusively expository. Owen as Salinger, in a bout of all too common emotional frustration challenges his partner to “read [his] file.” Watts as Whitman complies reading out loud as a kind of bed time story for the audience. She recites a pointless, cliched back-story which serves no purpose other than to further undermine Owen as an action hero.

The film was at its most enjoyable when Watts was humorously swearing like a fishmonger’s wife, a confused machismo for a confused character in a confused movie. Another cardinal sin Tykwer mistakes for a biblical commandment is to always treat the audience like infants.

As many times as there is some action in this movie, approximately five, the audience is first shown the scene, complete with cinematic cues that relay all necessary information. Next, Salinger relives the experience, no less than three times. The redundancy is astounding.

The International is a by-the-numbers action film lacking all the originality and spunk of Tykwer’s previous, Run Lola Run. The premise of evil banks is theoretically topical but falls short on real world implications. Chalk it up as a failed experiment proving what should be common sense about appropriate material for an action flick. The International will be hard for Clive Owen, not to mention Tykwer, to live down.