Arriving when the global banking system is in meltdown, The International – which sees a cabal of exquisitely tailored European bankers collude with arms dealers and the mafia while the world looks on – doesn't seem like a stretch. Hop-scotching across continents and as consumed with big ideas and great architecture, Tom Tykwer's glossy, high finance conspiracy thriller is a spectacular looking film with an unsettling intensity.
One of the more commercial releases from Germany and featuring a multinational cast worthy of its title, it should resonate in Europe. Its timely theme and globetrotting visuals could translate to sizable American boxoffice as well, although that may depend on whether audiences will invest in a story concerning the nefarious practices of corrupt bankers.
A lone man raging against the machine, Salinger (an intense Clive Owen) is a driven Interpol agent obsessed with bringing down the IBBC, a Luxembourg banking enterprise whose resumé includes war profiteering and murdering anyone who stands in its way. (Brian F O'Byrne as a spooky assassin is like a coiled animal ready to strike.)
Volatile and more outraged than those around him, Owen initially appears to be in his own movie. After a tentative start and establishing a complicated set-up, the film gels and the pulse quickens, especially when the action shifts to Manhattan, where Salinger, an unstable Don Quixote figure in need of a shave and a change of clothes, closes in on his only lead.
Salinger teams with a Manhattan DA (an uncharacteristically dull Naomi Watts). Their partnership, the expository dialogue and, in particular, a prolonged, far-fetched shootout at the Guggenheim Museum are weaknesses in an otherwise intricately plotted script by Eric Warren Singer.
Punctuated with bursts of energy, this is a contained, cerebral film. Rapture is reserved for dramatic modern architecture, which is equated with power and control, a reflection of how master manipulators view themselves.