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Tom Tykwer takes on topical intrigue with The International

Run Clive Run

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Gun, trench coat, apocalypse: check, check, check - PHOTO BY JAY MAIDMENT/ SONY PICTURES
  • Photo by Jay Maidment/ Sony Pictures
  • Gun, trench coat, apocalypse: check, check, check

The International opens Friday throughout the Triangle

Given our current global economic crisis, it isn't difficult to believe that financial institutions are out to get us. And director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and screenwriter Eric Singer aren't afraid to fan the flames.

The International marks what could be a new trend in action film villainy. Nazis, communists, drug lords, terrorists: These are the bad guys of yesterday. Instead, Tykwer and Singer exploit the new status of banks as this year's in-vogue villain by insinuating that such institutions thrive by making us "slaves to debt," as a character in the film puts it. In the unlikely event we don't get the point, the bank's headquarters are filmed so the glass-and-iron structure appears to be imprisoning a nearby statue of the globe.

Apart from its social and political musings, The International offers little in the way of improving upon forgettable and forgotten conspiracy thrillers. Louis Salinger, an obsessive Interpol agent (Clive Owen, essentially playing the same damaged, trench coat-clad hero he gave us in Children of Men), teams up with New York district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) to investigate a bank that funds criminal organizations with money, information and weaponry. In return for its investment, this bank seeks power and influence.

When Eleanor and Louis find a way to apprehend the bank's preferred assassin, they trek off across Europe, stopping in photogenic cities such as Milan and Istanbul. Tykwer lends his energetic style to the detectives' search, but there are still some awkward pauses where tension should have been: An interrogation done by text message proves that seeing people in films press buttons is only exciting if those buttons are on an explosive device.

After tracking the killer back to the good old, not-corrupt U.S.A., a gun battle in the Guggenheim Museum breaks out—a complete and welcome change of pace. The third act offers some interesting ideas about the ambiguousness of global commerce and its ability to be completely rotting on the inside and indestructible all at the same time. Going rogue by this time, Louis wages his covert war and discovers that one man alone can't disrupt the mechanisms of finance.

This downbeat ending is undercut by a closing-credits montage of newspaper headlines casually displaying vital information that provides the audience with the closure we never asked for.

The intent of the ending is unclear but suggests the film harbored a more complex agenda than we'd previously supposed. Still, The International is neither fun enough in its execution nor bold enough in its scope to bring its themes to a satisfying conclusion.

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