In this time of economic downturn when banks seem to be responsible for leading the world down the financial rabbit hole The International may be the timeliest movie to come down the pike so far this year. Loosely based on the 1980s Bank of Credit & Commerce International banking scandal, the bankers portrayed in the film are evil, money hungry thugs who care more for money than people; the kind of guys who spend as much time pouring over Sun Tzu’s Art of War as they do ledgers. In other words exactly the people who recently brought Wall Street to its knees.
The fictional IBBC is an international banking concern that deals in more than cold hard cash. Instead of offering a toaster when you open an account these guys pony-up guns and missiles. By supplying arms and advanced weaponry to warring countries they hope to control the debt that war creates. “When you control the debt,” says the inscrutable Wilhelm Wexler (the great Armin Mueller-Stahl), “you control everything.” The only thing standing between IBBC and world domination is Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), an Interpol agent who’s part bank inspector à la It’s a Wonderful Life and part CSI: Luxembourg. When he and his American counter-part Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) realize the only way to bring down the bank is to step outside the law the only question that remains is: Will the collateral damage be worth it?
Clive Owen plays his now patented steely character with a troubled past, a person we’ve seen him essay in everything from Sin City to Shoot ‘Em Up to Children of Men. He’s all guts and glory, the kind of guy who takes a beating but keeps on ticking. Owen has these characters down pat—the determined scowl and smoldering eyes—but is left hung to dry by a screenplay that seems to have been written by the patented Raymond Chandler Hard-boiled Detective Script Generator.
Not only does first time scriptwriter Eric Singer deliver a paint-by- numbers thriller but he saddles the actors with clumsy tough-guy dialogue that would have seemed corny in Humphrey Bogart’s day. Luckily director Tom Run Lola Run Tykwer has cast good actors like Owen and Mueller-Stahl because who else could deliver old hat lines like, “Sometimes the hardest decision in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn. I’m the one you burn,” without feeling a distinct sense of déjà vu.
Despite an implausible plot—the conspiracy, not the evil bankers part—Tykwer and cast pull some memorable moments from the thin material. It’s stylish, with some moments of great tension and a wild shoot-out in a New York landmark that almost justifies its two hour running time.
When The International shoots—that is expend thousands of rounds of ammo—it scores. The action is quite good; it’s just too bad the intrigue isn’t intriguing enough.