February 19, 2009


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The International (R)
Clive Owen is serious, driven and handsomely craggy in The International, a thriller that isn’t nearly as suspenseful as Owen’s performance suggests.

Cheers to him for giving it his all, though. He grimaces and boils over with genuine righteous rage, going way past the point where the movie stops at trying to be credible.

Louis Salinger (Owen) is all about righteous rage — he’s an Interpol agent investigating a bank that he believes is murderously corrupt. This international bank is the ultimate bad-guy organization, muddling in governments and selling weapons to evil-doers while keeping the good guys in check by killing off investigators and whistle-blowers. But with the help of New York Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), Salinger believes he can bring the assorted villains, mostly of the vaguely Germanic appearance and accent, to justice.

I wanted to like this movie, not the least because Owen and Watts are both fine actors and even in middling movies can offer good performances. But this movie seemed to muffle the rawness and the determination that this rather solid partnership is able to gin up. Though the bank is set up to have its fingers in many evil pies, the movie doesn’t connect the bad things it does out there in the world to the characters right here trying to bring them down. We get a string of dark-suited Europeans saying grim things and scenes with lovely black luxury cars driven by attractively bland bodyguard-ish men and a few glimpses of genuinely stunning architecture. But I found my mind wandering — actually, I found myself having a hard time staying awake. A long stretch that ends in a spectacular shoot-out inside the spiral staircase of the Guggenheim Museum should have been breath-takingly cool action-movie goodness. But it felt oddly cold and flat. The convuluted plot — which, yes, seems nonsensical when you pull it apart as the financial crew did on NPR’s Morning Edition — is no more ludicrous than the plot of the most recent Bond movie and yet I lost interest in it fast. The movie is both jaded and idealistic — the world is a horrible place but Salinger wants to change this one part of it — but somehow that mix, like everything else, fails to really light a spark.

The International isn’t a bad movie, but you leave it wanting more — more bad guys, more Salinger triumphs, more heat in this tepid story. C

Rated R for some sequences of violence and language. Directed by Tom Tykwer and written by Eric Singer, The International is an hour and 58 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.