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The International (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Clive Owen, who should have been chosen to play James Bond, should thank his lucky stars he wasn’t. Instead of participating in the generally disappointing films that are mere shadows of the ‘60s originals, Owen can pick and choose and actually act in good films. This is one of them.

Directed by Tom Tykwer, Louis Salinger (Owen) is an Interpol agent tracking down the evil deeds of a major international bank. Although the film is fiction, it is inspired by the downfall of the Bank of Credit and Commercial International that ran a pervasive money laundering operation, as well as trafficking in arms and other acts of terrorism. It finally crashed burned as investigators in the UK and USA got on its case.

Salinger is on the case of this bank with his partner, Manhattan Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts). Owen carries the film, and he does it very well. I couldn’t figure out why Watts was even in the film. I didn’t see that she added anything except beauty, and she’s got that in spades. But other than that her character adds exactly nothing to the story, except to give Louis someone with whom to commiserate.

This is an action-packed thriller with locations in New York City, Istanbul, Berlin, Wolfsburg, and Milan. Salinger and Whitman are on to something and want to bring the bank down. Alas, nobody else agrees with them. The reason why the bank is such a bad actor is a biting indictment on society as it exists today. So it’s kind of a chase film with them after the bank and just about everyone else trying to thwart them. This is a high paced, fun film.

Screenwriter Eric Warren Singer has penned some good lines, like, “If here’s no way out, the best way is to find one further in,” and “Sometimes a man can meet his destiny on the road he chose to avoid it.”

In addition to the fine performance of Owen, Armin Mueller-Stahl, who was a relatively soft-spoken bad guy, Semyon, in “Eastern Promises” (2007), portrays another memorable bad guy with charming ambiguity.

The most exciting part of the film is also the most disappointing for me, the shootout at the Guggenheim. It is simply preposterous, and a letdown for a film that has built up a great deal of verisimilitude up to that point. It’s a fun shootout, but so ridiculous that it weakens the film.

Despite that and the puzzling presence of Watts, this is an enjoyable, film, thanks mainly to Owen.