Thursday, December 9, 2010

The International

The International (Tom Tykwer, 2009) Say this for Tom Tykwer—he certainly does try and push the envelope.  Run Lola Run takes one situation and explored three possible scenarios, bending time and film in the process.  He attempts the impossible in Perfume: Portrait of a Murderer, basing a film around one sense the art of cinema cannot convey—smell.  And in The International, he bases a thriller plot around the concept of...architecture.  It's a film with a definite edifice complex.

It's a fine conceit: the gleeming facades of the banking organizations who are the villains of the piece conceal the corruption within (and didn't all the villains of the Bond films have the coolest, cleanest, most glimmering pads?), presenting walls of respectability to hide the base activities contained within, disguising their true nature and internecine practices from the public at large.  The film-makers also benefited greatly from timing—The International just so happened to have corrupt international bankers be the focus after the banking meltdown of 2008.

The unseen is a central theme of the film.  Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) sees a colleague die before his eyes during an investigation, but doesn't catch the small incident that kills him.  He then spends the rest of the film, with the help of Manhattan D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts, wasted in a nothing part), trying to gather evidence he only suspects exists about the arms-dealings being bank-rolled by the the International Bank of Business and Credit.

The film globe-trots from Berlin to New York to Milan to Istanbul, as Salinger follows an IBBC hitman (they apparenly only have the budget for one), then goes to the top to try to find the puppet-masters.  Tykwer does this sort of thing very well, but ultimately the story lets him down, leaving his visuals as the most memorable thing about it.  What most will remember is a shoot-out set-piece staged in the Guggenheim Museum in New York (and no, they didn't film it there, ingeniously recreating the Frank Lloyd Wright structure in a soundstage).  In it, Salinger and a police colleague attempt to confront the IBBC assassin, only to find themselves and their target, the subjects of a hit-squad sent by the IBBC (took awhile to generate a purchase order, I guess), which suddenly doesn't mind staging a hap-hazard shooting-match out in the open in one of the most famous structures in the world (Hmmm. Best not to think too much about it).  Tykwer takes your mind off the absurdity of the situation with his complicated, precise direction, as hunter and hunted find themselves unlikely allies once they find themselves on the wrong-end of automatic weapons.  This stays with you, long after the rest of the assets of The International have been depleted.

Tykwer using space as a function of violence: The Guggenheim shoot-out in The International
Warning: this clip is violent and bloody.

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