International, The (UK - BD)
Our Scott McKenzie checks out this recent thriller starring Clive Owen...
While investigating the shady dealings of an international bank, Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) witnesses the death of his partner just after a meeting with one of the bank’s representatives. Working with New York District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), his investigation takes him all over the world and the more they uncover, the more danger they find themselves in. The bank is on the verge of doing a huge deal, and working outside the law they’ll do anything to make sure the deal goes ahead.
I was looking forward to watching The International, being a fan of both Clive Owen and the director Tom Tykwer, whose movies ( Run Lola Run, Perfume, Heaven) tend to offer more in the way of intelligence and interesting themes than typical Hollywood fare. After watching the trailer and seeing Clive Owen with a big gun in his hand on the DVD cover, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a Bourne-style globe-trotting action spectacular. However, the reality is very different, and while the movie is enjoyable it’s undoubtedly the most generic movie I’ve seen from Tykwer.
For a start, this movie is all about the plot. Each scene involves Clive Owen finding out enough to move on to the next scene. The first scene is intentionally vague, putting us in the back seat of a car to witness a conversation that we’re not supposed to understand. We’re never effectively introduced to any of the characters, so all the way through the movie I never felt that I had much emotional investment in these characters. It’s clear from the beginning that there’s not going to be any romance between Louis and Eleanor, so we’re left with the plot to retain our interest, which fortunately it does.
The International definitely has the feel of a cold war thriller. The world is against our heroes and they face an omnipotent and secretive enemy, so there are enough twists and turns to keep our interest. The attention given to the analysis of the scene of an assassination is more than you might expect of this type of movie, which gives it an air of intelligence that is lacking from so many action-thrillers. However, the main problem for me was the fact that the bad guys are bankers. They’re not evil masterminds hell-bent on world domination—they’re just a bunch of blokes in suits that want to make more money.
Obviously any right-minded person would want to witness their downfall, but it’s difficult to feel the same level of hatred towards a bank manager as you do towards a ‘proper’ bad guy like Blofeld. The fact that the bad guys are bankers unfortunately dates this movie as well. If The International had been released a couple of years ago, everyone would have agreed with the thought that the banks were managed by evil geniuses. In these post-credit crunch times, we really know that they are just slaves to their own greed and are constantly at the mercy of market forces more than anything else.
Clive Owen and Naomi Watts are as watchable as ever, although Watts’ Noo Yoik accent takes a little while to get used to. I’m a big fan of Clive Owen, but I think he’s in danger of being typecast as the rogue with a heart of gold and I wonder if he bothers getting changed for each movie, seeing as he always seems to be dressed in an open-collar shirt with a long coat and a five o’clock shadow. Keep an eye out for a member of the cast of The Office (UK version) as one of the evil bankers. It’s a little difficult imagining him ordering people to be killed when you’ve seen him doing a dance from Saturday Night Fever next to Ricky Gervais.
Those complaints aside, the heavy focus on the plot did enough to maintain my attention all the way through. The shootout in the Guggenheim museum is the main (and pretty much the only) action sequence in the whole movie and was used as the basis for the marketing campaign. The story moves along a bit slower than you might think, so much so that the Guggenheim shootout does feel a little out of place. It’s an exciting scene that comes along at the end of the second act, just don’t go into The International expecting to see gunfights galore.
The look of The International is key to setting the tone, with the colour palette very cold throughout. The movie appears to take place in a perpetual autumn (that’s ‘fall’ to the readers in the USA), where every location apart from Istanbul is cold and wet. These locations are all beautifully shot and well-represented on this transfer. The detail in the picture is also impressive, with the regular use of aerial landscape shots to establish the scenes. Aside from the shootout in the Guggenheim, we’re not in Bourne territory here, so there aren’t many scenes with quick camera movements; instead we get smooth, slow moves to match the slowly-building tension in the movie.
Here we get a Dolby TrueHD audio track and while there’s rarely a lot going on in a movie that involves a lot of men sitting around talking, what is there is also impressive. The score (of which Tom Tykwer was one of the composers) is haunting and sets the mood perfectly. As the centrepiece—the scene at the Guggenheim—is well-produced, with bullets flying around from speaker to speaker. It’s the stand-out moment in the movie for many reasons and a lot of work has obviously gone into the sound production here. The rest of the movie makes good use of silence and the minimalist music, so while the audio won’t blow you away from beginning to end, the use of surround sound is perfectly suited to the action on screen.
There is one commentary track available here, with Tom Tykwer and writer Eric Singer. It’s not exactly laugh-a-minute but the commentary is filled with interesting details. Singer talks about his motivation for writing the screenplay—the theme of war profiteering and the idea of a gunfight at the Guggenheim—and Tykwer tells us the changes he felt were needed to move the action into modern times rather than the 70s and 80s period setting of the original screenplay. There is one extended scene, which at eleven minutes is a pretty long sequence that gives us a hint of romance between our protagonists and the slowest chase ever. It’s worth watching but from a pacing perspective, it’s no wonder it was left out of the movie.
‘Making The International’ gives us interviews with everyone involved in the production and we learn that the movie has been in development since the 90s and is loosely based on the BCCI, a real international bank with a shady history. ‘Shooting at the Guggenheim’, ‘The Architecture of The International’ and ‘The Autostadt’ are all short featurettes looking at the construction of the Guggenheim set, the choice of buildings used in the movie and the implications of being the first production to film at Volkswagen’s Autostadt in Germany. Finally we get trailers for Angels and Demons, The Taking of Pelham 123, Fired Up!, 2012, Year One and Ghostbusters.
The International has a lot going for it, but even though it stars two of my favourite headliners and is made by a director who has produced some interesting work in the past, the final production unfortunately doesn’t add up to any more than the sum of its parts. It almost felt like it should have been the first part in a franchise, but by the end I wasn’t really that bothered about finding out any more about the characters. On the other hand, the movie looks and sounds very good and there are enough extra features to enhance the experience for fans of the movie.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 6th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 ENglish, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Italian
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Director and Writer Commentary, Extended Scene, Making The International, Shooting at the Guggenheim, The Architecture of The International, The Autostadt
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 118 minutes
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