Reel Critic:

Suspense flick demands attention

February 25, 2009|By Beth Temkin

“The International” is a smart and glossy thriller with a multinational cast. While the screenplay by Eric Warren Singer has topical subject matter, it is afflicted with too many confusing subplots.

Directed by Tom Tykwer of “Run Lola Run” fame, the film is filled with explosive car chases, gut-wrenching energetic gun play, and visually is a treat for the senses. The original music by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tykwer builds to exciting climaxes and adds to the overall suspense.

The cinematography of Frank Griebe covers old and new architectural wonders, exhilarating as it highlights the gorgeous Mosque in Istanbul, or Berlin’s recent main railway station Hauptbahnhof, Volkswagens’ landscaped theme park Autostadt (as the International Bank of Business and Credit’s headquarters) and Milan’s expansive Piazza Duca D’Aosta.


In “The International” Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan Assistant Dist. Atty. Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) are determined to bring to justice one of the world’s most powerful banks, the Luxembourg-based International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC), which they suspect is guilty of arms brokering of missile-guidance weapons.

As disclosed to Salinger by German security advisor Wilhelm Wexler (a sinister but mesmerizing Armin Mueller-Stahl) “banks don’t control conflict, they control debt created by conflict. You control debt. You control everything.”

At a reconstructed Guggenheim Museum built over four months on two separate sets in an abandoned Berlin railway roundhouse with the Guggenheim’s blessings, there is an extended rally of gunshots with automatic weapons brilliantly edited and photographed, as the bank’s security, Interpol agent and Manhattan police, shoot the place to shreds with automatic weapons.

During this 15-minute scene, two episodes suspend belief. Whitman getting hit broadside by a car and surviving with only a bruised shoulder, and Salinger getting shot twice in the head and walking away from it to jump in a car for another chase. During the course of the film, they continue to chase down leads in Berlin, Lyon, Milan, Lake Iseo and Istanbul.

Owen is driven and obsessed through most of the film, and disheveled, which is perhaps warranted since he tells Whitman he hasn’t slept in days and can’t remember having eaten a decent meal.

The chemistry between them is no more than a surface friendship, and 2003 Academy Award-nominated Watts, for “21 Grams,” is underused, mostly gracing the background.

Supporting players add greatly to the unsettling atmosphere.

The nattily attired bankers are cold and villainous, but it is not always easy to distinguish who is who. Of special note are Brian F. O’Byrne as the Consultant; Ulrich Thomsen as Jonas Skarssen; and Haluk Bilginer as Ahmet Sunay.

The actor with the greatest charisma is Mueller-Stahl, veteran actor of 129 films. It is impossible to take your eyes off him.

All in all, Tykwer’s film gives a visceral rush that stays with you long after.

?BETH TEMKIN has been a movie buff since the age of 3 when her grandmother took her to see “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.” ?BETH TEMKIN has been a movie buff since the age of 3 when her grandmother took her to see “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.”

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