If there's one thing the recent economic meltdown/mortgage crisis/worldwide Depression or whatever we're going to call this financial calamity has taught me, it's that banks have extremely complicated ways of making -- and losing -- large sums of money. And they don't all involve solid gold bathroom fixtures on private jets. In The International, a thriller about a bank called the International Bank of Business and Credit, the financial institution in question makes large sums of money through a complicated scheme of weapons trading and assassination, or so it would appear. Sure, why not? The timing for The International could hardly be better. A year ago, perhaps a movie about an evil multinational bank would have elicited shrugs of indifference. Ah but now... who isn't ready to believe that bank executives are the personification of pure evil, children of the Devil so utterly without conscience that even the Devil would give them a wide berth? These guys are so bad, they even scare the arms dealers and warlords who are their main clients.
They don't scare Lou Salinger (Clive Owen, toggling between righteous indignation and weariness). Well, they do, but it doesn't stop the Interpol agent from his dogged pursuit of the nefarious bankers. That's good, except that just about every person Salinger talks to about IBBC ends up dead. Lou's improbable partner in the pursuit of global justice is Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), an overworked Manhattan assistant DA. The two intrepid sleuths travel the world pursuing the bank's head honcho, a smooth Scandinavian named Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen), and his most reliable assassin (Brian F. O'Byrne), leaving a trail of corpses behind them. Despite their overall sense of heightened paranoia, Salinger and Whitman continually express surprise when another informant drops dead on them. Curse those bankers and their highly efficient securitizing of toxic assets!
If you can buy into the premise of The International, you'll still be left wishing the movie were better. Director Tom Tykwer once made fast-paced, stylish entertainments like Run Lola Run. The International is sluggish, uninspired and workmanlike, a movie with very little in the way of style or substance, and not much going for it aside from some nice scenery and interesting architecture. The movie looks expensive, although all the picturesque globetrotting doesn't hide the clunkiness of the plot nor adequately distract from a script (by Eric Singer) that is full of soft-boiled attempts at hard-boiled dialogue. Said dialogue is good only in comparison to the movie's attempts to wax philosophical, as when Salinger and bank baddie Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl), an ex-Stasi commie seeking redemption for his evil capitalist ways, chitchat about roads less traveled and trees and the greater good and justice.
But first, Salinger and assorted assassins (including the meta-assassins trying to kill the assassin sent to assassinate Salinger) shoot the Guggenheim Museum all to hell and spurt rivers of blood all over Frank Lloyd Wright's pretty spiral. If one is going to engage in egregious vandalism of an architectural treasure, it ought to be more interesting than this -- a gory shootout in the Guggenheim ought to be unique and beautiful (like the Guggenheim itself) instead of uninspired and pedestrian (like some boxy branch bank). The International does wrong by Wright, and it doesn't get much else right either.