Pot-boiler: a film that always keeps the audience in ebullient form; ticking over; on the edge of its seat; guessing what the plot specifics are and nervous to beat the band.
'The International', starring Clive Owen, fits into this category. While it is not a film that will go down in cinema folklore, this is a very solid effort from the highly original German director Tom Tykwer ('Run Lola Run').
We open on a shot of Clive Owen: he is in Berlin; it's raining; it's moody - one feels this flick could be decent. In the opening scene we see an Interpol agent - Owen's colleague - having a secret meeting with an executive from the International Bank of Business and Credit or IBBC. They discuss details of exposing those involved in the arms trade; this all takes place in a black car filled with plumes of cigarette smoke - yet again, one is more interested. The deal is arranged and the agent gets out of the car. I was hooked.
From here, the audience follows Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen) and Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Watts) in trying to expose high-profile and powerful banking institutions involved in worldwide arms brokering, corruption and murder.
During the opening scene, described above, the IBBC executive states: "I'm more comfortable when I'm tense." For that reason, his character would love the film he features in. As Owen attempts to track down those responsible for arms trade skulduggery, we become part of a fascinating, fictional exploration of that trade.
Tykwer's film explores the often murky parameters of the banking industry, which permit multinational corporations and governments to play far too large a hand in the supply and use of arms in struggles across the globe. Like 'Syriana', directed by Stephen Gaghan, 'The International' broaches subjects that affect news headlines and world reports on the Middle East every day. It is a highly creative and intriguing analysis into what drives people to finance conflict and terrorism and the methods by which these interactions are allowed to take place - despite the best interests of law enforcement agencies around the globe.
Also, much like 'Syriana', the film's plot is as thick and as tasty as a homemade Scotch broth; you'll need your thinking cap on a lot of the time to follow exactly what is going on and who is stitching up who, but sticking with the story is worth it.
One of the most appealing aspects of the script is that it allows one to see in detail the dealings of the many people involved in this game of cat and mouse. In other words, we see through the eyes of the law and those bending it. This structure allows the audience to appreciate in full the complexities of the situation and examine the values of communism and capitalism portrayed by a dazzlingly diverse array of central characters.
The film is also superbly assembled. Tykwer is an outstanding director, whose unique cinematic vision is in evidence in spades throughout - most notably in collaboration with some of the film's creative team.
Editor Mathilde Bonnefoy does a sterling job. The cuts are fast-paced and deliberate in equal measure and assembled with aplomb.
The sound department for the film - 16 filmmakers - has composed a highly impressive piece of work. For those of you who, like me, take extreme pleasure in picking out the sounds that jerk your emotions in the directions that a director hopes you will go, this film is quite simply a treat. The sound design comprises a highly individual mixture of electronic music, piano tinkles, primal base beats and tribal music: excellent. In addition, director Tykwer collaborates with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek, to produce some very effective original music.
'The International' is not without its flaws. At times the script is stale and the realism of the dialogue questionable. In addition, the performances of Clive Owen and Naomi Watts are extremely hard to categorise and somewhat clunky. I would be surprised if either won an award, but yet they do enough to draw one into their characters. For the first 40 minutes, I lacked any empathy for them; however, as the reel rolled on, this began to change. Some of the interaction between the two of them is very poor and the dialogue does not do them justice. From two such accomplished actors, one would expect more - perhaps some of the blame has to fall at the feet of debut scriptwriter Eric Singer.
Clive Owen's performance is particularly interesting. At times it is so brazenly wooden that he seems to be phoning it in - yet for some reason this works for the character; it is similar to how Liam Neeson's blandness works in 'Taken'. Owen does far better here than with his shameful performance in 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age', but nowhere near as well as his turn in 'Closer'.
An interesting point of note is that the film was originally due for release in August 2008, but was pushed back to February 2009, in order to accommodate re-shoots. Its release therefore coincided with the largest banking crisis in US history; this timing makes a plot involving an unstoppable bank controlling political foreign policy highly ironic and dubious.
So, as I say, no cinematic classic and also a little too long at 118 minutes, but not a terrible film. If you are a fan of thrillers and/or interested in world politics this will leave you sated. Oh, and if you like high octane gun-toting, there is a knock-out scene set in the Guggenheim in New York towards the climax.