The International (2009) dir. Tom Tykwer
Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Ulrich Thomsen, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Tom Tykwer is one of cinema's most original and adaptive directors. We all know his visual acuity from "Run Lola Run", but his underrated "Perfume", "Heaven" and even his "Paris Je T'Aime" segment show he has some underused talents screaming to break out into the mainstream. Is The International his break out film?
With little exposition, Tykwer parachutes the audience into the middle of a battle to take down a corrupt international bank. When we meet our hero, Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), he's about to secure a key whistleblower for the case. Unfortunately, within 24 hours the man dies under mysterious circumstances — just the latest setback after years of toil for Salinger.
As Salinger and his lovely partner, NY District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), obsessively investigate the murder of their informant they get closer than ever to breaking the case. But when the fat cats prove to be untouchable it will take actions beyond the law for Salinger to find justice.
Tykwer makes the best of what he's got here. His images are remarkably pristine. His grey and black colour scheme and high-key, high-resolution frames are as sharp as the bankers' Armani suits. And his traditional, locked-off, classically composed shots reminds us that handheld action isn't all that. Suck it, Bourne!
On the page though it's a run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen corporate thriller script barely rising above an episode of primetime television. With the timely presence of a bank as the megalomaniacal evil empire in this story, metaphors and relevant political commentaries are ripe for the taking. But aside from Ulrich Thomsen's unintentionally funny line, "you control debt, you control everything," it's all about arms dealing, which makes it feel out of date.
Tykwer's investigation and forensic efforts all seem perfunctory actions to get to the set piece everyone will be talking about: the Guggenheim gunfight. And it's a doozy. A slow but tense walking chase through the streets of NY is capped off when Salinger and his colleagues tail an assassin to the Guggenheim Museum. A breathtaking gunfight ensues reminiscent of Michael Mann's L.A. shoot out in "Heat".
Shortly after, with the audience's adrenaline still pumping, Tykwer converts a marvellous second act turn when he forces Salinger to make a life-changing decision, setting up what should be an intense third act. Unfortunately Tykwer's wrap-up is sloppy, cheating the audience from the rip-roaring climax this film deserves.
The International feels like part two of a trilogy. We yearn to know more about our angst-ridden hero, his back-story with Whitman and the mob story that emerges in the third act. While the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, Tykwer's skills and Owen's obsessively intense performance trump its scripts failings. I'm ready for a sequel.