Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Screening Log: The International (Tom Tykwer, 2009)

Posted By on Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 10:00 AM

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"There's got to be some way to bring down this bank!" is the second funniest superserious line ever oversold by a scowling-yet-probably-somehow-in-on-the-joke Clive Owen. (First is "Since women stopped bein' able to have babies...", from the preview for Children of Men.) Psst, Clive: try highly leveraged mortgage-backed securities.

As you've probably heard by now — perhaps because you read Daoud Tyler-Ameen's L Mag review, which makes this point very concisely — Eric Warren Singer's script for The International grabs nakedly at the zeitgeist, by making its villain an international banking concern; and misses completely, on account of it is silly, silly, silly; and, more to the point (given the political prescience of even-more-inept thrillers like 2007's first-person-shooter fantasy Shooter, which reflected with reasonable prescience libertarian disillusionment with corporate-cozying war-making Patriot Actors), because it is generic, generic, generic.

The International is, yes, mostly just a globe-trotting randomly topical action thriller (during establishing shots the bottom of the screen says Berlin, Lyon, Milan, New York, Istanbul, etc). Like Quantum of Solace, it could more accurately be titled The Bourne Again. Unlike Quantum of Solace, however, you can actually tell where people are in relation to one another during the action sequences.

Most notably during the justly ballyhooed calling-card shootout in the Guggenheim rotunda, an ingenious (and actually relatively non-destructive, considering the amount of ordinance let off) circular gauntlet in an iconic modernist space/tricky layout.

In fact The International is very agreeable to look at throughout, with the widescreen filled with consistently intuitive compositions, and a palette of lovely wintery grays. The director here, of course, is Tom Tykwer, maker of all-time great movie-you-felt-cool-for-knowing-about-in-high-school Run Lola Run. Throughout his career — I'm thinking especially of the unlikely, totally moving reach-out-and-touch-base-r The Princess and the Warrior — Tykwer's been attracted to filmmaking technologies and flashy techniques, not for their own sake, but for the way they allow him to be everywhere at once. (Think of the digressive flash-forwards, say, in Lola; the rapid-fire sensory-overloads in Perfume; the how-a-letter-gets-sent montage that opens Princess.) He's a really terrific butterfly-flaps-its-wings filmmaker, and there are moments in The International where he gets to play with his gadgets while showing how things click into place. (An assassination sequence begins with a sequence cutting each of lock, stock, barrel, sight, silencer up into their own distinct shot; later, computer-aided dissolves show investigators re-creating the event.) This is entirely appropriate — inspired, even — for a movie that, at least in theory tackles the interconnectedness of global finance and geopolitics. It's a shame this movie was such a for-hire job for everyone involved — I'm going to assume Naomi Watts was paid in baby food until I hear different — because a little more shaping of the script, to fit Tykwer's preoccupations and eccentricities, might have elevated this one a notch or two above "guilty pleasure."

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