“The International”
At Showcase and Quality 16

Courtesy of Columbia

3.5 out of 5 stars

Clive Owen reportedly turned down the chance to play James Bond when Pierce Brosnan left the job. And it’s a good thing, too, as 007 would have taken him away from time-consuming modern classics including “Children of Men.” Still, Owen gets a chance to see what life as Bond could have been like in the globetrotting thriller “The International.” It may not be as action-packed as “Quantum of Solace,” but “The International” is a solid, consistently intriguing film.

The movie follows Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts, “Funny Games”) as they work to uncover the crooked activities of the International Bank of Business and Credit, one of the most powerful banks in the world. Louis and Eleanor have linked the IBBC to a laundry list of nefarious crimes, including everything from assassinations to nuclear arms trade. Their pursuit naturally finds resistance at the highest levels of government, prompting Louis to pull a Jack Bauer and work outside of the law to bring the bank down.

As outlandish as the plot sounds, the film is surprisingly realistic and straightforward. The nature of the IBBC’s scheme is summed up in a few concise lines of dialogue, using existing global affairs like China’s growing dominance and the never-ending tensions between Israel and its neighbors. Unlike most pursuit films, following Louis and Eleanor as they chase the enemy through New York, Milan, Berlin and Istanbul is far from a painful task. Also, using bankers as villains in “The International” is hilariously relevant, considering the current economic situation. Those who blame banks like Bear Sterns for the financial crisis will find it immensely satisfying to see Louis battle greedy, soulless CEOs.

Clive Owen does badassery better than anyone else, but it would be nice to see him tap into his acting talents a bit more. In “The International,” his range of emotions is limited to grouchy, mildly pissed off and dangerously enraged. It’s actually a good thing that Owen’s character isn’t given much depth, as viewers would probably hurl if he was given a trite ulterior motive to fight the bank along the lines of “they killed my wife.”

Eleanor’s character stands alongside Louis for a substantial part of the film, but she disappointingly disappears for the final third of the movie. Still, the filmmakers should be commended for avoiding the conventional route of creating a romantic relationship for Louis and Eleanor. It’s refreshing to finally see a platonic, professional relationship between a man and woman that’s free of any sexual tension.

“The International” is not — as the trailer wants people to think — purely an action film. Louis is no Jason Bourne; he’s just an above-average police officer. Director Tom Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run”) wisely limits the action in the film to a single sequence, amplifying its intensity. Viewers will have to wait patiently, but they will be rewarded with a gorgeously choreographed shootout that takes place in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. The camera stays tight to Louis as he navigates through shattering glass and screaming civilians. Blood spatters against the dizzying white spiral construction of the museum. This eye-popping battle is guaranteed to linger in viewers’ minds as one of the greatest gunfights in recent cinema.

“The International” is a well-made movie. It reaches a perfect pace, neither confusing nor exhausting audiences. The Guggenheim shootout itself is worth the price of admission. Tykwer made a hard decision to avoid watering down the film with countless car chases and explosions, but in doing so, risked finding a wide audience. Sadly, more people are likely going to see “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li” than this movie. They’ll be missing out.

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