Tom Tykwer's The International can trace its bloodline back to the paranoia peddlers of the 1970s --- think The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor -- but benefits tremendously from our current predicaments. After all, can you think of a better time to open a globetrotting thriller that casts a morally bankrupt financial institution in the villainous role?
This isn't just any bank behaving badly, though. The fictitious International Bank of Business and Credit is a global (yet eerily faceless) entity with employees who are experts at covering the shadow organization's tracks. When necessary, the IBBC can make court records, police documents, and even people disappear. The IBBC established its wealth laundering money for terrorist groups and organized criminals. Now it's bidding to broker a major arms deal with China that would supply weapons to Middle Eastern military factions. Article continues below
For Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), taking down the IBBC has moved from routine assignment to obsession. A two-year investigation conducted in unison with district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) has hit its most recent dead end -- meaning, quite literally, that a former IBBC executive who was prepared to testify against the bank has been murdered.
The highest compliment I can pay The International is that everything covered between Tykwer's picture and Eric Singer's sharp script seems possible. The criminal actions of the IBBC are ambitious and deceitful, but disturbingly believable. In response, the steps taken by Salinger and Whitman's investigation hold water. Certain clues produce tangible leads. Others fizzle out. In one credible instance, the team is aided by dumb luck. Even the film's sure-to-be-talked-about signature scene -- an exhilarating and nimbly choreographed shootout at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan -- convinced me that chunks of the iconic art facility were irreparably damaged for the good of the picture.
Tykwer brings out the best in Owen, as well. The actor tends to exist behind an invisible barrier. No matter the character he's playing, we're led to believe that we have to work to earn his trust -- not the other way around. Here, he distances himself by rooting Salinger's escalating anger in fear and exhaustion, which plays into the agent's suspicions and frustrations.
Let's not forget, however, that movies are escapism in tough times, and International also delivers a passport-testing excursion as the audience awaits justice. Tykwer railroads Salinger and Whitman through Berlin, New York, Milan, and Istanbul as the paper trail grows alternately hot and cold. I didn't notice at first, however, that long passages of dialogue delivered in Italian, German, and French arrived without subtitles. It didn't matter. I knew exactly what sentiment was being conveyed. Anger, paranoia, and intimidation must have universal translations.