I was hoping to see The International (2009) in the theater, basically for two reasons; director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run; Winter Sleepers) and actress Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive). Ultimately I ended up watching it on Blu-ray, though, and it’s probably just as well; it’s a pretty average movie.
It’s a thriller centered around an investigation into an international bank based in Luxembourg, which is suspected of attempting to set itself up as a go-between weapons broker connecting Chinese arms manufacturers with third-world revolutionaries. The investigation is a joint effort by the New York District Attorney’s office, spearheaded by Eleanor Whitman (Watts), and Interpol (represented by Clive Owen). Owen’s character, Louis Salinger, is a former Scotland Yard hothead who has carried over his relentless pursuit of justice against this dirty bank from his British law enforcement career to his new gig with Interpol. The death of one of Louis and Eleanor’s colleagues, just as he is closing in on a bank insider who could make their case, sets the duo up with enough clues to pursue their case further…with often hair-raising results.
For the most part it’s a well plotted film and its focus on reprehensible bank behavior is certainly well timed, but for all its detailed plot machinations, ultimately the proceedings felt a little cold and hollow. Tykwer’s usually impressive visual sense is on display, particularly in the film’s gorgeous establishing shots of various international locales (the film visits Germany, France, Luxembourg, Italy, Turkey, and the United States), but on the whole the direction feels kind of half hearted, as if the director is one step removed from the story. Both Owen and Watts are effective, given the limited opportunities afforded by their roles — although sadly, Owens has little more to do than act intense, and Watts concerned. The films tries to shotgun them into a “romance-that-wasn’t” subplot, but there aren’t really any sparks. There’s an impressive action setpiece and there’s some enjoyable, subtle investigative hugger-mugger, but by and large it’s hard to get emotionally invested in any of it.
Really, there’s nothing wrong with The International; it’s a highly professional film, well acted, diverting. But it’s ultimately just kind of unmoving.