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Review: 'The International' needs more thrills

  • Story Highlights
  • "The International" about a bank involved in some ugly dealings
  • Clive Owen plays Interpol agent on the trail; Naomi Watts is a DA
  • Movie could use more action, less exposition, says CNN.com's Tom Charity
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By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- You can't argue with the timing: In Tom Tykwer's by-the-numbers conspiracy thriller "The International" the bad guys are all bankers.

Clive Owen plays an Interpol agent on the trail of some nasty bankers in "The International."

Clive Owen plays an Interpol agent on the trail of some nasty bankers in "The International."

Their portfolio includes trading Chinese arms to Syria and Iran, funding Congolese rebels, fraud, money laundering and murder. "The value of conflict is controlling the debt," they reckon.

But here's the kicker: they're also desperately over-extended. Looks like the guys in the tailored pinstripe suits are set to become Hollywood's brand-new heavies.

The title is ambiguous: a reference to Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), perhaps, or maybe shorthand for "the International Banking System"? The fictional private bank that is Salinger's target is known only as "IBBC," a conspicuous echo of BCCI, the Bank of Commerce and Credit International that was busted on similar counts in 1991.

BCCI was supposed to be a rogue operation. Today, we're more disposed to indict the entire globalized trade apparatus, and indeed, the IBBC is "everybody," Salinger is told, from Hezbollah to the EU, the Mafia to the U.S. government.

Owen blanches slightly at this news. The odds ain't good. Video Watch Owen and co-star Naomi Watts talk about the film's challenges »

For all its serendipity, Eric Singer's script dutifully sketches in the contours of many a paranoia thriller: insider sources who die before they can spill the beans, smugly dissembling corporate lawyers, higher-ups desperate to dismiss uncomfortable hypotheses as idle speculation. It's Identikit storytelling, and all too familiar once the elements have fallen, rather fortuitously, into place.

Tykwer is the German director who made his name with "Run Lola Run" and teeter-totters between the multiplex and the art house in films like "Heaven" and "Perfume." He has a discerning eye for big-money modernist architecture, those shiny glass edifices that make a mockery of transparency and crop up all over the place here: in Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy.

But Tykwer is nothing if not an internationalist himself, and this is a Euro-thriller with a flat American accent. Too bad he betrays such a tin ear when it comes to English dialogue.

Singer's laborious script shovels reams of undigested exposition in Salinger's mouth, laced with ill-advised gobs of spitball philosophizing: "Sometimes a man meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it," he observes. Sounds as if he's just stepped into an old Humphrey Bogart movie.

At least Owen looks appropriately ruffled, visibly crumpling as the body count goes further into the red. Naomi Watts, in contrast, always seems ready for her fashion spread, even after a short, sharp run-in with a speeding car and back-to-back trans-Atlantic flights. (I guess the DA's office in Manhattan pays for business class.) Then, when the going gets tough, she retires from the fray.

The one sequence that stands out is a 10-minute shoot-out in New York's Guggenheim Museum, a tour de force of curving sight-lines and precipitous Hollywood deconstructionism in which bullet holes perforate Frank Lloyd Wright's elegant white spiral with palpable disdain. So what if the carnage doesn't begin to square with the bank's previous softly-softly approach to assassination? It's a decidedly inspired form of philistinism, almost worthy of Hitchcock, and it gives the movie a much-needed bump.

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Everything afterward feels anticlimactic -- and there's quite a lot of it, too. "The International" is a handsomely made film, for the most part, but it could have used another exorbitant action set-piece or two -- even at the cost of some of that hard-earned credibility it has going for it.

"The International" is rated R and runs 118 minutes. For Entertainment Weekly's take, click here.

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