×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The International

"The International" is a mostly ho-hum globe-hopping thriller.

With:
Louis Salinger - Clive Owen Eleanor Whitman - Naomi Watts Wilhelm Wexler - Armin Mueller-Stahl Jonas Skarssen - Ulrich Thomsen The Consultant - Brian F. O'Byrne

While prescient, or just lucky, to have made bankers its bad guys, “The International” is a mostly ho-hum globe-hopping thriller that gives the audience too little investment in its protagonists and central conflict. Graced with well-chosen location eye candy, Tom Tykwer’s biggest production to date is proficient but lacks the added tension and characterization to put it anywhere near the top tier of contempo action suspensers. With its very Euro feel, this Sony release probably will perform better overseas than Stateside, where outlook is just OK. Pic kicked off the Berlin Film Festival on Feb. 5.

Eleven years after raising the bar for arresting, hyperkinetic commercial filmmaking with “Run Lola Run,” Tykwer has found himself bettered at his own game by the likes of Paul Greengrass, Danny Boyle, Doug Liman and Martin Campbell, among others. “The International” scampers all over the place, but it’s alternately frantic and a little slack, with a hole in the middle where some interesting characters ought to be.

First-time screenwriter Eric Warren Singer based his script on the Bank of Credit and Commercial Intl., a Pakistan-born institution that specialized in money laundering, arms dealing and financing rebel armies, mercenaries and terrorists from the 1970s until its demise in 1991.

The fictional bank in question here, the IBBC, has a formidable, ultra-sleek HQ in Luxembourg and seems to function equally as an assassination bureau and a broker for weapons sales among unsavory parties. Having witnessed a colleague drop dead in Berlin after nearly uncorking a deal for a sophisticated missile guidance system between the Chinese and some undesirables, it falls to sweaty, grubby, pushy Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), formerly of Scotland Yard, to finger the bad boys, who are all well-groomed, overly serious Euros expert at hard stares and putting on airs of steely superiority.

For reasons glided over too quickly to sink in, Salinger is paired with New York Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) to pursue their suspicions. European officials suddenly become extremely uncooperative when they find out who the pair is investigating, even after another high-profile murder and a political assassination in Milan bear the IBBC signature.

Nearly an hour in, the action shifts to New York City for the sole purpose of staging the film’s major violent setpiece on the curving ramps of the Guggenheim Museum. After a wildly coincidental chance sighting of the assassin, cutely known only as the Consultant (Brian F. O’Byrne), Frank Lloyd Wright’s Upper East Side masterpiece is turned into a war zone as it gets shot to pieces by philistines wielding very heavy artillery. Taking performance art to new levels of mayhem, Tykwer moves his shooters amid ever-changing wall video installations as they maneuver up, down and around the gallery and leave a terrible case of pock marks in their wake.

As orchestrated chaos ensues for 14 minutes, you mostly wonder how the sequence was filmed, if a combination of the real place and sets was used and why the Guggenheim would have allowed it. The answer is that, except for some establishing shots, the sequence was entirely staged on a massive, utterly credible re-creation in an old railway roundhouse in Berlin.

The fact that one sits there contemplating logistics more than story suggests something’s missing. Owen’s Salinger is clearly designed to be the counterhero, a scruffy, stubbly, ornery maverick who’s let the rest of his life slide, in his often bumpy pursuit of justice. The basic notion behind the character is fine, but insufficient psychological detail is provided to back up the exterior sketch; one need only compare him to a similarly driven and prickly detective, such as Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection,” to be aware of the depth that’s wanting here.

Salinger’s spirited tag-along crimefighter Whitman is one of the few roles to which Watts hasn’t been able to bring anything special, because there’s nothing remotely suggested about her inner-life or past. By contrast, Armin Mueller-Stahl’s titan of corruption at the center of IBBC has been loaded with a ripe former career to help explain his malfeasance, just the latest example of how much more interesting it can be to play complicated bad guys rather than one-dimensional good ones.

Scripter Singer latched onto a good subject for a thriller but paid more attention to connecting the dramatic dots than to delving beneath the surface of international business or personality. Dialogue is generally mundane with functional intent.

Textured lensing by Tykwer regular Frank Griebe captures the visual qualities of the diverse locations, which also include Lyon and, in the scenic finale, Istanbul, where effective use is made of rooftop vistas as well as the Suleymaniye Mosque and an underground Byzantine cistern. Other production values are fine, and the score by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil throbs in relatively discreet fashion.

The International

U.S.-Germany

Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation, in association with Relativity Media, of an Atlas Entertainment production, a Rose Line Prods. and Siebente Babelsberg Film co-production. Produced by Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Lloyd Phillips. Executive producers, Alan G. Glazer, Ryan Kavanaugh. Co-producers, Gloria Fan, Henning Molfenter, Carl L. Woebcken, Christoph Fisser. Directed by Tom Tykwer. Screenplay, Eric Warren Singer.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, Arri widescreen), Frank Griebe; editor, Mathilde Bonnefoy; music, Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil; production designer, Uli Hanisch; supervising art director, Kai Karla Koch; art directors, Sarah Horton, Luca Tranchino; set designers, Bettina Lessnig, Marcus Goeppner, Stephen Bream; set decorator, Simon Boucherie; costume designer, Ngila Dickson; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Ed Cantu; supervising sound editor, Frank Kruse; re-recording mixer, Matthias Lempert; visual effects supervisor, Viktor Muller; visual effects, UPP Prague; special effects supervisor, Gerd Feuchter; stunt coordinator, Glenn Boswell; assistant director, Sebastian Fahr-Brix; second unit director/camera, John Mahaffie; casting, Francine Maisler. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, Jan. 29, 2009. (In Berlin Film Festival -- opener.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 118 MIN. (English, Italian dialogue)

With: Louis Salinger - Clive Owen Eleanor Whitman - Naomi Watts Wilhelm Wexler - Armin Mueller-Stahl Jonas Skarssen - Ulrich Thomsen The Consultant - Brian F. O'ByrneDetective Bernie Ward - Jack McGee Detective Iggy Ornelas - Felix Solis Detective Gloria Hubbard - Nilaja Sun Ahmet Sunay - Haluk Bilginer New York D.A - James Rebhorn Inspector Alberto Cerutti - Alessandro Fabrizi Umberto Calvini - Luca Giorgio Barbareschi Martin White - Patrick Baladi Francis Ehames - Jay Villiers

More Film

  • Luca Guadagnino Teams With Valentino on

    Luca Guadagnino Teams With Valentino Designer on Short Film Starring Julianne Moore (EXCLUSIVE)

    Luca Guadagnino has teamed up with Italian designer Pierpaolo Piccioli, creative director of the Valentino fashion house, to make a short movie fusing the aesthetics of film and haute couture and featuring an A-list cast comprising Julianne Moore, Kyle MacLachlan, Marthe Keller, KiKi Layne, Mia Goth and Alba Rohrwacher. The 35-minute film, portraying different chapters [...]

  • Edgar Wright

    Edgar Wright Preps London-Set Psychological Horror Movie, Talks ‘Baby Driver 2’

    Edgar Wright’s next project will be a psychological horror film set in London’s Soho district and with a female lead. The “Baby Driver” writer and helmer has also talked about the sequel to that movie, and said a first draft of “Baby Driver 2” is ready. Wright was talking to British film magazine Empire. The [...]

  • Trailer for Berlin Panorama Opener 'Flatland'

    Trailer for Berlin Panorama Opener 'Flatland' Revealed (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer for Jenna Bass’s “Flatland,” which is the opening film of Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section. Sales are being handled by The Match Factory. The South African film is a contemporary Western centering on a journey of self-discovery for three different but equally trapped women. “It paints [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    Marvel Studios’ hotly anticipated blockbuster “Captain Marvel” will hit Chinese theaters on the same day as it debuts in North America. The Brie Larson-starring picture will release on March 8, 2019, which is also International Women’s Day. Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film tells the story of Carol Danvers, a former fighter [...]

  • Peter Rabbit trailer

    Australia Box Office Recovers, Grows 3.6% in 2018

    Gross theatrical box office in Australia grew by 3.6% in 2018, to $890 million (A$1.25 billion). The score was propelled by a rebound in the performance of the top local films. Data from the Motion Picture Distributors Assn. of Australia published Tuesday showed aggregate cinema revenues recovering after a dip in 2017. While the 2018 [...]

  • Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics

    Q&A: Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics While Hosting the SAG Awards

    Megan Mullally is funny. The “Will & Grace” star can also sing and dance. While she’s not picking up the Oscar hosting gig after the Kevin Hart fiasco, Mullally will take center stage on Sunday, Jan. 27 when she makes her debut as the host of the 25th annual SAG Awards. Variety caught up with [...]

  • Glass trailer

    'Glass': Five Box Office Takeaways From M. Night Shyamalan's Thriller

    With his fifth No. 1 box office opening, M. Night Shyamalan has plenty to celebrate. “Glass,” the conclusion to a trilogy that consists of the 2000 cult hit “Unbreakable” and 2016’s box office sensation “Split,” topped the box office last weekend — though its win comes with a few caveats. James McAvoy reprised his role [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content