Sunday, March 8, 2009
In The International, Clive Owen and Naomi Watts star as a pair of law enforcement offers (one Interpol, one NY DOA) hot on the trail of a criminal international bank.
The movie, which seems to have been held back from its original release date and has received scant notice in theaters, may be suffering from having been overtaken by recent events. Nothing in this film about a very very very bad bank is no where as dramatic as the bad banks that Geithner and Obama seem to be dealing with every day.
However, for the sake of movie analysis, let's put all this aside and deal with the movie on its own terms: a cinematic story, much like The Constant Gardener, based on a real-life banking conspiracy that explores a high-finance, international critical criminal issue under the rubric of an action thriller. This is a perfectly acceptably plotted, well directed, well acted thriller about tracking down a murderous, international banking conspiracy, and yet, for some reason, the movie never quite achieves that certain something that most good movies need to really draw you in.
I could point out a number of culprits: while the cold steel & glass architecture where most of this takes place is quite impressive as sculpture, the steel gray cinematography and the sterile environments give the movie a cold sheen that seems distant and drab. The movie peels back layers upon layers of conspiracy only, really, to arrive at a kind of vague corporate oligarchy, where there are very ill-defined bad guys who we are never given any information about, or a real chance to hate. The detective work here begins to take on the excitement of a tax audit, only without any actual figures to review. Clive Owen's inspector Salinger character is the typical cop working around the system, but his protestations and flame-outs seem more stock than character driven. And when the real confrontation happens in the movie - in which a critical character must be turned - the dialogue devolves into a banter of empty cliches, and the character gives in without any real reason or motivation. If only LA Police Chief Brenda Johnson on "The Closer" had interrogations this easy. And this all happens about twenty minutes before the movie ends...leaving the rest of the film to hang flat.
On the other hand, the movie has one great scene involving The Guggenheim Museum that was truly Hitchcock inspired. The hired hit man here also turns out to be one of the films best characters. The postmodern artwork in the museum gives the scene the perfect thematic punch, just the way Hitchcock would have done (it seems to say, just as postmodern art deals in recycled imagery, banks deal in recycled obligation). I guess that shows that if you're going to steal, steal from the best. If only the rest of the movie had that same energy, that kind of resonance, and that same sense of character, I'd be recommending it. Unfortunately, aside from this scene, everything else in the film feels phoned in.
So while there's nothing really terrible about this movie, there's not enough here to recommend it. Perhaps one day if it's on TV, and the banking crisis seems long ago, you might watch this film and wonder - how could it have been that people ever imagined that banks were powerful.