Clive Owen and Naomi Watts take on an international banking concern tailored for the mob, totalitarian dictators, and rogue nations in the globetrotting thriller The International (2009).
“Money is not this institution’s primary medium of exchange,” explains an officer of the International Belgian Bank of Commerce to an aspiring African dictator and potential client. They bundle handy services together like selling munitions and financing the terms, sort of the GMAC of international arms dealers. They’re also the bank of choice for organized crime, which explains such business practices as political assassination.
Owen is Interpol agent and former Scotland Yard investigator Louis Salinger who teams up with New York Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Watts) take the point in a joint investigation of the IBBC, which takes them from Berlin to New York to Milan and back as all their witnesses keep turning up dead.
Salinger is something of a loose cannon in the otherwise disciplined international agency. It lets Owen play the indignant maverick and gives the film license for all sorts of dramatic action, including a high-caliber shoot-out in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. An entire platoon of killers sneak their automatic weapons into the museum for that particular piece of performance art, a strikingly designed scene executed with impressive but impersonal precision.
This altogether self-serious thriller is a timely piece of conspiratorial intimation and multinational economic power and Tom Tykwer’s direction is both sleekly handsome and efficiently anonymous, something of a disappointment coming from a director whose best films have a metaphysical dimension. This is firmly materialist, all about the cold logic of the plot and the visceral sheen of the spectacle.
It plays like Tykwer’s audition for a Hollywood high-stakes action film contract, a smartly done adult thriller executed with a brisk efficiency and a driving momentum. While entertaining, for all the breathless action it’s neither passionate nor urgent.
Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, and Brían F. O’Byrne costar.