How appropriate, in current economic conditions, that an action film is released that demonizes bankers. More specifically, the antagonist of “The International” is a bank that exists above the law – stationed in neutral borders and holding a big enough profit to bribe God – whose illegal business practices are safeguarded through the routine “accidents” that happen to anyone and everyone able to fight it.
Director Tom Tyker is the latest in a line of directors who subdue their usually high-fidelity style (Tyker’s “Run Lola Run” is one of the most frenetically-paced films ever made) for a more standard approach. For “The International,” the shift mostly works. Aside from the plot holes and the melodramatic action, both standard in Hollywood for some time, “The International” comes away as a strong action film worth running a credit check for.
Almost immediately, we are introduced to Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), who is thrust into investigating the evil bank’s shadowy deals after his partner turns up dead. Along the way, he is teamed up with district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), who also, for reasons only shakily explained, has the urge to see the enterprise file for bankruptcy.
Following the corruption leads the dynamic duo across many countries and continents, showing the breadth of power the bank enjoys, but more importantly allowing for a wonderfully refreshing variety of landscapes for the inevitable gun battles.
Don’t let the premise fool you, however, because despite the need to capture intense fight sequences of many styles, the cinematography never breaks into the anticipated shaky handheld-cam shots that made the third Bourne film infamous; Tyker instead opts for softer cinematography, favoring smooth camera movements that highlight, but don’t give headaches.
The gun-toting parody “Shoot ‘Em Up” (also featuring Owen) was more serious than “The International,” but that never gets in the way of enjoyment, granted you are willing to suspend your disbelief until it hurts. Owen performs high-rise stunts that would easily wound Bond, more groan-worthy dialogue is spoken than in a Dane Cook comedy special, and for some reason, a bank capable of assassinating presidents and killing off civilians in broad downtown daylight can’t capture two – albeit physically apt – nuisances.
Owen, in his special way, toes the line between serious and parody so closely that his role could be read either way, but his vulnerability makes you care regardless of how you read the film. He could reasonably fail and be killed, and that makes you like the guy.
Watts’ character, Eleanor, is much less relatable, but just as suited to the over-the-top plotline as Owen’s. She plays up her supposed legal smarts while obliviously denying the sexual chemistry between her and Salinger.
Despite not having the erratic camera or the pulsing techno soundtrack of his most famous work, Tyker still manages to make the more conventional film look good. While filming abroad, landmarks play host to mindless gun-and-chase sequences that are enjoyable as long you don’t have the audacity to think through them.
While these locales are far too barren for the businesses that are supposed to be running in them, they are shot with dramatic expertise, their emptiness allowing for gunshot echoes and unison footsteps that add a slick flavor to the action scenes on display. Just try not to lose too much of that adrenaline when the actors start talking again.
Classes could easily be taught on “The International,” not because it’s anything resembling great, but because this one film easily contains a quarter’s worth of action film standards that reach decades back into Hollywood’s “been-there-done-that” bin. But director Tyker and a presumably huge location shooting budget make this trip through routine much more visually appealing. Watts could have been a more believable mom, but her antagonizing buddy-buddy scenes with Owen have enough of a dynamic to sit through.
Sitting right beneath “Transporter” in terms of quality, “The International” is still the best action film of the year so far, and it’s a perfect way to shake off that nasty habit of thought processing after a midterm.