Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Elenor Whitman (Naomi Watts) are determined to bring to justice the International Bank of Credit & Commerce, one of the world's most powerful banks. Uncovering myriad and reprehensible illegal activities, Salinger and Whitman follow the money from Berlin to Milan to New York to Istanbul. Finding themselves in a high-stakes chase across the globe, their relentless tenacity puts their own lives at risk as their targets will stop at nothing - not even murder - to continue financing terror and war.
Review by Louise Keller:
An international bank with dubious morals and unethical practices is at the centre of this large-scale thriller which steamrolls its way through politics, big business, organised crime and weapons acquisition. 'You control the debt; you control everything': debt is the gold required for power and control. Director Tom Tykwer helms this intriguing fictional story whose chilling reality is grounded by real events involving a bank in Pakistan in the 70s, whose under the table activities ran parallel to those encountered here. The Individual versus The Corporation is the scenario and one that is all too terrifying as Clive Owen's Interpol Agent and Naomi Watts' New York Assistant DA follow every lead to try to penetrate the seemingly impenetrable corporate fortress.
Traversing continents, breaking rules and taking risks all form part of the trail and as the pieces of the jigsaw start to fit, we understand the head-spinning magnitude of what is at stake. Owen has great presence as Louis Salinger, the hot-headed, passionate agent with a strong sense of right and wrong and stubborn determination to achieve his goals. He is nicely countered by Watts' pragmatic Eleanor Whitman, whose common sense acts as a brake for Salinger. As the protagonists, Salinger and Whitman are at the centre of the action, while around them, official records are manipulated, deaths are made to look like accidents, cold-blooded murders take place and we witness carefully orchestrated assassinations. The pursuit of the man who likes the look of agony, and wears a custom-made shoe is riveting and the climactic scene in the Guggenheim Museum is one of the most memorable (and visually thrilling) shoot-outs of recent film history.
The involvement of Armin Mueller-Stahl's Wilhelm Wexler as the Consultant hoping for a fitting finale ('The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense'), is a highlight and Ulrich Thomsen's cold and callous bank chief Jonas Skarssen is nicely underplayed. Chase and action sequences are intermeshed with pertinent dialogue and Eric Singer's screenplay about greed and big business is sadly only too relevant in today's economy. Tykwer's direction excels in all areas - from the big scale to the intimate moments, and the film resonates as a forceful thought provoking work that satisfies.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An intelligent, timely and relevant script pushes The International into the headlines as a topical thriller, exploring the clash of ideologies between power hungry financial institutions and decent individuals. The story imagines a giant bank which has looked past profits to the power of holding communities and even Governments in their debt as levers of power. The stakes and rewards are so high that normal limits of morality, ethics and the law are transgressed and forgotten. Treachery, lies and even murder are on the agenda. Far fetched? Sadly not; the fictional bank in this film was fashioned after the Pakistani-founded Bank of Credit and Commercial International in the 1970s.
As for individual finance executives who rape and pillage the system, just read yesterday's and today's news. And to its credit (pun intended) The International never forgets the relevance of its moral message, and stops long enough to articulate the basic issues that separate Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and operators like the bank's 'uncle' Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and bank chief Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen). One of the most powerful scenes is the conversational confrontation between Salinger and Wexler, as they explore each other's moral positions. For a moment I thought this would be a thriller to end without a gun fight or gun shot, but the story was not over just yet. It would have been a thinking man's thriller - which probably wouldn't play so well in the multiplex and thus deprive a large audience of terrific entertainment. And a chance to be exposed to the arguments.
Clive Owen proves he would have been the equal of Daniel Craig as the new James Bond, delivering both as action man and as a smart operator with a clear sense of right and wrong. Naomi Watts makes a fine US Assistant DA, and has several key scenes which she handles with strength and sensitivity. Armin Mueller-Stahl is perhaps the most memorable for his stillness in a role of great intensity, depth and resonance. Ulrich Thomsen (his English almost spotless) is a genuine character, if by necessity unlikeable.
It's no doubt thanks to German director Tom Tykwer that the cast includes such fine European talent alongside the English language marquee names, and his direction is superb, balancing action, story, character and something valuable to say in a compelling movie that you wish wouldn't end. And when the end does come, we wish all thrillers could be so genuine and real.
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INTERNATIONAL, THE (MA)
CAST: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brian F. O'Byrne, Michel Voletti, Patrick Baladi, Jay Villiers, Fabrice Scott, Ben Whishaw, Thomas Morris, James Rebhorn, Alessandro Fabrizi, Felix Solis, Jack McGee, Haluk Bilginer, Luca Barbareschi
PRODUCER: Lloyd Phillips, Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
DIRECTOR: Tom Tykwer
SCRIPT: Eric Singer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frank Griebe
EDITOR: Mathilde Bonnefoy
MUSIC: Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Uli Hanisch
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 19, 2009