The only logical conclusion to be drawn from the title “The International” is that whoever came up with it doesn’t want us to be interested in seeing the movie. I don’t know what the strategy would be in that, but why else would they give it such a dull name?
Like its title, the film is low-key and inconspicuous, punctuated by a couple action scenes and a few puddles of suspense. This is by design, though — it’s more Michael Clayton than Jason Bourne, with the emphasis on complex plotting rather than car chases. Tom Tykwer, the stylish German filmmaker who’s been unable to duplicate the success he had a decade ago with “Run, Lola, Run,” directs even ordinary scenes skillfully and artfully, and without the frenetic camerawork that has marked so many recent espionage thrillers. It’s a good-lookin’ movie, with much to recommend it, even if it doesn’t quite raise hairs or stop hearts the way you want it to.
Clive Owen, as always the coolest guy in the room, plays Louis Salinger, an Interpol agent working with the Manhattan D.A.’s office to bust the International Bank of Business and Credit, a massive Luxembourg-based institution that’s neck-deep in laundering money for organized crime. (One of its major branches is in New York, hence the D.A.’s involvement.) The IBBC has also been investing heavily in missile guidance systems, which tends to draw attention.
Thus begins a globetrotting story — OK, mostly Europe-trotting — that has Salinger and his partner from the D.A.’s office, Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), trying to find who murdered an IBBC informant, and subsequently who murdered a prominent Italian politician, and whether the assassins are the same (duh) and whether that assassin was hired by the IBBC (double duh).
All that bank stuff is perhaps overly complicated, and ultimately not really the point anyway. It’s merely the vehicle by which the film delivers its mystery-solving, clue-detecting, and suspect-surveilling — though it is somewhat gratifying, in the current environment, to see bankers portrayed as villains. I bet Salinger could get the banks to quit pestering the girl in “Confessions of a Shopaholic.”
Watts drops in and out of the story casually, delivering cliches like “We can blow this thing wide open!” when she is around. That leaves Owen to carry the film; fortunately, he was made for this kind of thing: the brooding (but not grumpy) loner in dogged, quiet pursuit of the truth. He and the suave, mostly European supporting cast (including the great Armin Mueller-Stahl as a senior IBBC officer) play their cat-and-mouse games in a variety of scenic locales, and if the story itself isn’t enough to grab you, there is a fantastic action sequence set at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Having spent more than a few hours (and dollars) being confused by exhibits there, I’m pleased with the way things turn out.
B- (1 hr., 58 min.; )