The International (2009)

Director:  Tom Tykwer 
Cast:  Clive OwenNaomi WattsArmin Mueller-Stahl
Plot:  An Interpol agent attempts to expose a high-profile financial institution's role in an international arms dealing ring.

Genre:  Crime / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  118min
Rating:  NC16 for some sequences of violence and language.

A vast disappointment by German filmmaker Tom Tykwer, the director of the innovative visual thriller Run Lola Run (1999), The International exemplifies the apologetic state of action-thrillers today. It seems like producers have worked out a magical formula for box-office success. Hire popular stars and a decent director; everything else does not matter. The result depends on the risk taken. The recent Pierre Morel film, Taken (2009), starring Oscar-nominee Liam Neeson, and written by French hotshot Luc Besson is a bold example of the potential and profitability of such a formula. 

This formula may bring in the dough, but it is a sore point for critics of film. Taken is only a below-average film disguised as a crowd-pleaser. The International may finally buck the trend, and is a lesson to be learnt for over-expecting producers who care less about artistic expression in film than the heavenly sound of cashiers ringing. Tykwer’s latest feature struggles to appeal to viewers, and by word-of-mouth the film is not doing too good as well. 

Starring Clive Owen (Children of Men, Shoot ‘Em Up) and Naomi Watts (21 Grams, King Kong), The International is blessed with two excellent leads capable of lifting any mundane film to something more bearable. The film is generally well-directed by Tykwer, whose specialty in building high-octane set-pieces is not called on here. It is such a waste because the opportunities are there to make The International a breathtaking spectacle. Instead, there is only one standout action set-piece that unfortunately ends without logicality - the bloody shootout in a building made up of spiral walkways. 

The International attempts to deface the banking industry but ends up with eggs in the face (a situation which most financial institutions are familiar with). Debut screenwriter Eric Singer’s work here is unforgivable. There are enough loopholes to rival the number of holes in the bullet-strewn bodies of Bonnie and Clyde. It finally ends in ambiguity after two hours establishing a plot that is far from coherent. In a way, Tykwer does an adequate job cleaning up after the mess created by Singer. But that means he spends less time indulging in creative visuals that he is known for. 

The International lacks the cutting edge to succeed as an original and inventive action-thriller. Tykwer’s involvement could have almost assured that. However, he is working with a lousy script and for producers and distributors whose middle name is greed. Owen and Watts will still draw moviegoers, but the latter will leave the theaters unsatisfied. The International offers better rewards than Taken, but that isn’t saying anything. But I would still pay to watch Tykwer’s film than Renny Harlin’s 12 Rounds (of crap). Now that’s saying something. 

GRADE: D (5/10 or 2 stars)

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