A blog about movies and filmmaking.

you can’t fight city hall, or the banks

In action on July 11, 2009 at 12:11 am

I love espionage, intrigue and back-stabbing in my cinema and television. That’s why some of my favorite movies are the BOURNE series, THE CONVERSATION and THE WEST WING. I have just finished watching a movie that gave me all of that.

The movie is the newer release by the director of RUN LOLA RUN, Tom Tykwer and written by first time feature writer Eric Singer, is THE INTERNATIONAL. It’s a great movie that approaches espionage and corporations trying to take over the world from the side of the people who are trying to take them down legally and through the “proper means”. This movie has no super spies. The closest we have to a renegade, loose-cannon character is Clive Owen’s Louis Salinger – an ex-Scotland Yard agent and current INTERPOL-liaison with the New York District Attorney’s office. Mostly interacting with Assistant DA Whitman – played by Naomi Watts, and they’re trying to out a banking corporation called IBBC, headed by a group of mysterious men, led by Jonas Skarssen.

Throughout the movie, we see these two “good guys” confronting individuals about getting a statement, corroborating information and almost in every case being shut out, or having the people they talk to wind up dead. The movie is definitely not an “action-packed, adrenaline fueled thrill ride”, but it is very tense and suspenseful. It’s not the best movie of this type, and I think that because it was sort of portrayed like it was going to be this fantastic action, spy movie, is why it wasn’t as well regarded and accepted at the box-office. But, it’s definitely worth seeing and is even more timely now after all this financial crisis news has gripped the world.

Because, in the movie the only real “bad guy” is a faceless bank, that we only get a taste of whether it gets it’s comeuppance during some news clippings shown during the closing credits. The antagonists we do get sort of implicate anyone that isn’t fighting for the side of our heroes. Whether it’s actual heads of the IBBC, the people in charge of our agents who give them a time-limit to get a lead, or the law-enforcement agencies who just follow orders from someone above them. One of the other heads of IBBC, the man who is basically the enforcer that hires the assassins to take out the company’s enemies or interlopers – as played by Armin Mueller Stahl – is the one who is given the most backstory and the last chance of redemption.

The acting in the movie is fantastic from everyone; the quality that you can expect from the stars, Owen and Watts, from the secondary characters (Mueller Stahl, Brian F. O’Byrne and Jack McGee in his only few minutes on-screen) and even from the people that are just walk-on parts. (Like the police captain in Italy, and the face acting by the assassin in the same place.)

The style of the movie is very much harkening back to the older movies in this genre. There’s a THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and THE STAR CHAMBER all mixed in to give us a present day thriller. Then there’s the locations of the movie. It starts out in front of a Berlin Bus Station, to then the Volkswagon Autostad as the home of the Bank. When the movie eventually gets to New York and finally Istanbul, Turkey, the movie sort of moves as time machine, showing how far ahead Europe’s architecture has leaped ahead of the United States, and eventually almost landing in the middle ages with the still ancient looking – but absolutely stunning – Turkey. Everything in this movie is beautiful, the way the movie is shot, the way the actors move and action is framed, the movie draws you in.

Then there is the small amount of action that the movie actually does provide and the most well-promoted and interesting is the shoot-out in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (although it was actually filmed in a studio in Germany). The best thing about it, is the plot development of the piece, which actually sees the bad guy and the good guy team up as they’re under attack by a third party. The action then takes place over five stories of the completely circular setting and video screens – which are supposed to be the current installation in the museum – with bullets ripping the place apart and innocent bystanders ducking and hiding (in one moment, kind of as a tension breaking, humorous moment). The other main action piece, which is actually more of a chase – almost slasher movie-type stalking – moment, through the streets of a giant marketplace in Turkey. The way the scene is shot, has Clive Owen stalking through the crowds with a gun in hand, and the last villain we get to see dealt with frantically trying to find a way to get away. It’s amazing how even with flocks of people around him, they all seem to melt away and leave this man all alone with a singular, focussed enemy closing in. The final scene, where the characters have found a stairway onto the roofs of the marketplace, is framed by two mosques on each side and shot with each character facing away from the sun (which, is realistically impossible), but works, especially with the final moment of illumination.

Great movie, definitely better than it was given credit for and I’m sure will gain a better following as it ages.

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