Monday, November 23, 2009
You Must Do What You Feel is Right, Of Course.
I'm just a bit behind the power curve with this one (though I'm more than a decade timelier than with my review of The English Patient).
One of my recent China acquisitions is Tom Tykwer's 2009 film The International. I only vaguely remember it coming to theaters earlier this year, but I grabbed it among a bunch of things from my favorite market in Guangzhou thinking it looked like a generically good pot-boiler. Something my wife (who loves a good blockbuster) might enjoy.
Turns out it's a remarkably good film to have passed so quietly. Clive Owen plays Louis Salinger, an Interpol detective who is working with the Manhattan District Attorney's office (in the person of Naomi Watts playing Assistant D. A. Eleanor Whitman) investigating an obscure bank in Lyon, the International Bank of Business and Credit, or IBBC. The IBBC is known to be involved in the laundering of organized crime money in New York, and is suspected in this way or some other of being connected with a series of murders. The murders, as it happens, are the tip of a vast criminal iceberg engineered by the bank, and when Louis Salinger's partner is murdered right in front of him (in a manner so slick as to be virtually undetectable), our crime fighting duo find themselves in the thick of it.
The movie plays like an installment of Robert Ludlum's Bourne serial. Though Louis Salinger has no compelling back story to compare to Jason Bourne's amnesia / superhuman mercenary training, he plays the same dogged detective role as Bourne, refusing to be shaken from his task despite mounting personal peril. It's interesting how amorphously menacing a bank can be made to seem. Almost like a machine which has grown so complicated as to suddenly become self-aware, the bank, through an inscrutable combination of departments and mechanisms and persons, quietly musters whatever resources are necessary to protect its far-flung interests. It's all very un-bank-like, and it all happens several steps ahead of most of the police or investigative forces who might be marshaled to stop things, which is why people disappear before anyone can think to bring a little more firepower to meetings. I may never look at international finance in the same way again.
Director Tykwer is largely unknown here, having a career mostly in German television. A previous film of his, Run, Lola, Run, played over here some years ago. But The International feels like the work of an old pro. It jets from place to place, France to New York to Italy and so on (again like a Bourne film). The cast is first-rate, with Clive Owen seeming especially well suited to his part as an idealistic man with his teeth sunk into much too large a predator. He has the pounded-to-a-pulp-but-undeterred thing (perfected by Bruce Willis) well in hand. I love Naomi Watts, though at times she sounds a bit like a TV character here. But when it counts she brings the goods. The various bank villains are also well made, especially the marvelous Armin Mueller-Stahl as the old and wise advisor to the bank's board. His quiet, tired line delivery is a source of continuous intrigue.
It's probably a silly thing to fixate on, but I appreciated that the leads did not find their way to a romantic entanglement (I know I personally would naturally gravitate toward romance with someone like Naomi Watts...). As if the director took a page from the Law & Order franchise, the story is really not about anyone's personal life, at least not more than is absolutely necessary to tell the story.
This seems about as good as this genre of a movie is likely to get.