The International (2009)

2010 #61
Tom Tykwer | 118 mins | Blu-ray | 15 / R

This review contains spoilers.

In the special features on The International’s Blu-ray, director Tom Tykwer comments that architecture is a focus of his when making a film. It certainly shows here: there are many, many lingering shots of buildings (and just about everything else, actually), all very modern, with straight, clean, crisp lines. The cinematography matches it in pin-sharp perfection, which at least means the Blu-ray image is a pleasure to watch. The film itself, however, is a little dull.

A lot of scenes involve people explaining the plot to each other, or discoursing in clichés about why they’re going to be thrown off the case or justice is an illusion or whatever. In a rare moment of something approaching innovation, we don’t have to suffer a romance between the two leads because she’s happily married, as we’re briefly shown early on. It should be something of a concern when one of a film’s high points is something it doesn’t do.

Other characters just drop out of the narrative when their time’s up. The worst example of this is Naomi Watts’ lawyer/DA’s assistant/token non-maverick-who-goes-along-with-the-maverick. She’s one of the two leads, until there’s nothing left for her to do and she’s removed from the story before the final act, never to be seen again. Not even affording the character some kind of post-climax epilogue scene highlights that she was barely required at all, other than to give Clive Owen’s character someone to talk to.

Not that her continued presence would’ve improved the film’s final act. The ultimate resolution is half brave and half cop-out: the goodies fail in bringing the baddies down, the film explicit in the fact that such business will always continue; and yet most of the baddies are dispatched, one way or another, and a closing array of newspaper headlines serves to imply that the law got the Big Bad Bank after all. As “have your cake and eat it” endings go, it’s a damp squib.

And yet, for all this, there are still a few moments and sequences that stand out. The overly complex assassination of a Presidential candidate, for example, features a few moments that you wish were in a film where they made more sense, and were less reliant on “everyone everywhere is in on the big bad conspiracy, except our heroes and a few people they choose to work with and anyone else we want to be a good guy”.

Tykwer and co manage just one largely flawless sequence: the heralded Guggenheim Museum shoot-out. It’s almost worth watching the film just for this. (In a complete aside, the credits note that “the fictional exhibition depicted in the main galleries of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was not curated by nor an actual exhibition of the museum.” It’s almost ironic that the one sequence in the film really worth being associated with is the bit they want to distance themselves from.)

The filmmaking skill Tykwer exhibits during this one action sequence, plus the beauty with which he shoots international scenery, suggests he’s the perfect director to take over the Bourne franchise (should that rumble on). He already seems to be borrowing from it, including the choice to underscore all his long, slow shots with punchy, driving music, as if this in itself will give the film some dynamism. It doesn’t. Though The International may occasionally remind you of that trilogy, then, it doesn’t come close in the entertainment stakes.

Perhaps such an assessment of the film is harsh. It’s undoubtedly flawed and certainly a little dull, but there are many films that are much more flawed and much duller, and few of those have anything to match The International’s high points — namely, its cinematography and the Guggenheim sequence. Even the things that are ‘bad’ aren’t really bad so much as average. So an average score it is.

3 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of The International is on Freeview channel Movie Mix (aka More>Movies on Sky) tonight, Friday 20th June 2014, at 9pm.

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