THE INTERNATIONAL is a film that wants to be two kinds of movies at once, and somewhat drops the ball on being either very effectively.
This tells the story of an effort by law enforcement officials to bring down The International Bank of Business & Commerce, the IBBC. This bank, we're told right from the start, is involved in weapons trading and many shady deals involving violent overthrows of governments and so forth. They don't really make money off the arms dealing, they make money handling the debt of the newly emerging governments. They are a ruthless bunch, operating like a shadowy intelligence agency...assassinating those who stand in the way, bribing others. There is no way to bring them to justice, it would seem, because they have their fingers in every pie, and will kill anyone who might get in their way.
So first, THE INTERNATIONAL wants to be an "intelligent" thriller, with lots of suspense generated by the political and economic machinations of men in business suits talking in hushed tones. We see the good guys and the bad guys both discussing with each other the ramifications of one course of action or another. There is lots of globetrotting, with scenes in Luxembourg, France, Italy, the US & Turkey. These scenes are only moderately interesting, because in the end, the schemes of the bank are only drawn out in the most simplistic terms (the movie wants us to FEEL that everything is richly detailed and complicated, but it really isn't). AND, most importantly, the actions of the bank don't really feel entirely credible. Not that a financial institution wouldn't align itself with some really bad guys...but the whole thing really just feels like a half-baked Roger Moore-era James Bond kind of plot.
The other half of the movie wants to be an action thriller of the BOURNE ilk. But the action and gunplay and forensic police work is mostly quite staid and uninspired. With one notable exception. There is a fabulously elaborate, visceral and exciting gun battle set in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC. Naturally, it relies on the old standby that all bad guys are terrible shots and good guys seldom miss...but it's a thrilling, old-fashioned sequence that makes the rest of the movie almost worthwhile.
Also worthwhile is the always solid presence of Clive Owen. Here's a guy who can really act, when given the chance. He can be charming, he can be soulless...but he's seldom boring (and he's always vaguely half-shaved...talk about swarthy). Yet true stardom has eluded him, because the truly best material doesn't go his way...or when something flat-out brilliant like CHILDREN OF MEN lands on his lap, no one goes to see it. Owen is the right man for THE INTERNATIONAL, though. He's capable of handling the talky dialogue. He seems vaguely impatient with all the chatter and politics, and just wants to get on with taking some people DOWN. And when the action does kick in, he's not just an impervious gunslinger...we see real fear and real hurt. We believe that he is a hero who COULD get killed. He brings a humanity to the most "Hollywood" of scenes and he brings movie star glamour to the most mundane of scenes. It's an interesting dichotomy.
Owen is the star of the film...no question. He is in nearly every scene, and director Tom Tykwer likes to give us lots of close-ups. But Owen is assisted by a sold supporting cast, including the always welcome Naomi Watts. Her role is seriously underwritten and probably could have been handled by anyone...but it's nice to see her anyway. The silky-voiced, menacing Armin Muehler-Stahl also shows up as one of the head honchos from the bank. This guy has THAT character down pat, and he's also always welcome.
Tykwer can be a great director (RUN LOLA RUN is a propulsive film in the best possible way)...and the gunfight shows where his true talents lie. He doesn't bring much zest to the talkier scenes, and I hope someone notices this and gives him a more action-packed thriller to helm.
Overall, I enjoyed THE INTERNATIONAL, but for most of its 118 minutes, I was quite aware that what I was seeing was not going to leave much of an impression. It's a solid but seldom exciting movie. It wants to think it has captured the flavor of our times, but it isn't rooted enough in believability. If you like Clive Owen, I'd say it's worth a look. If you're not a particular fan...then there's very little reason to spend time on it. It's a near miss.