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The International

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Friday Feb 13, 2009
The International

There's nothing wrong with "The International" as a movie. It's certainly not the best in its genre - as an action film it's too weighty in theme and characters, and too shy on plot twists - but it's got superb performances and an awesome action sequence that alone is worth buying a ticket. No, the real problem with this movie is what, to all appearances, should be a competitive advantage: its topical theme of corruption in the banking world fails to resolve into a productive statement. Instead, it kicks us when we're down.

The plot is fairly ordinary, revolving around a fictional behemoth of a bank named the IBBC. Far from a normal depository, the IBBC is involved in shouldering massive debt partially brought about by military coups it itself finances by brokering arms deals. Not a very nice business, for sure - and fraught with unsavory types that would as soon shoot you as take your cash; but IBBC has, excuse the expression, made a killing at it.

If that's confusing to you, don't worry; you're not meant to understand it all. Instead take a gander at Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and NYC District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) as they race to bring down the bank. They're pretty, no? And they look really good comparing bullet trajectories and talking to foreign dignitaries in their down-to-earth clothes and Western speech. In general, we know they're trying to bring down the IBBC, which is comparatively filled with spiffily-dressed Europeans who have an odd, menacing look to them.

There's one absolutely terrific action sequence: a shoot-up of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Frankly, it ranks in my top-ten of suspense sequences, stretching out for nearly fifteen minutes wherein rough-and-tumble philistines attempt to gun down Salinger and a witness to the bank's crimes. But it's also the high point of the picture, which sadly peters out from this point into a caustically demoralizing denouement.

Actors Watts and Owen do their best to make their characters believable, but as written by Eric Warren Singer, they lack cohesion. Fortunately, they make their interplay credible, and are backed up by a gifted cast that nearly covers the film's shortcomings. I'm a particular fan of Armin Mueller-Stahl's work as an insider who flips to informant, his optimism having been shattered by years of attempting to make sense of a system where banks, governments and criminal elements are hopelessly and permanently intertwined.

And, frankly, that's the big problem here. Sony/Columbia should have shelved the release of this film, rather than attempting to take advantage of its topical nature. With world banks in distress thanks to abuses in the system, the fight against the IBBC would seem to give audiences something for which to cheer. But, you see, it's actually based on Pakistan's Bank of Credit and Commercial International, which similarly crossed the line by arms dealing and financing terrorists in the 1980s; and it's not a happy story. For the reasons described by Mueller-Stahl's character, corporate corruption is depicted not as something against which we should fight as a society, but as something that will flourish regardless of any steps taken to kill it. In other times, this film might have been taken as a documentarian statement on the deep-rooted problems that plague capitalism; right now, it just comes off as defeatist.

The International


Runtime :: 118 mins
Release Date :: Feb 13, 2009
Language :: English
Country :: United States

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.

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