Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Movie Mondays Snow Day Edition - The International

Welcome to the snow day edition of Movie Mondays. I was off yesterday due to a happy, happy snow day and reveled in doing nothing (not really; got a bunch of work done, actually) so what would have been yesterday's post is now today's. Follow? Good.

In The International, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) has been tracking the nefarious dealings of the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) for years. Its crimes range from money laundering to armament sales and the destabilization of small governments. Now, along with Manhattan ADA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), Salinger's obsession has put him in a high-stakes chase around the globe as he investigates a powerhouse that will stop and nothing to maintain its control over the financing of terror and power.

Early last fall, I went to a viewing of
The International as part of a marketing focus group. I get invites to such things from time to time, but only rarely does time, place, and content flow together as well as it did with The International. I enjoyed it - really enjoyed the centerpiece shoot out, but I'll get to that in a minute - but I felt it had a few hiccups that needed work. This past weekend I got the chance to go see the final cut.

At both viewings, I immediately liked the global span of this film; it travels from Berlin to Lyon to Milan to Istanbul and beyond. The visual landscapes are striking. There are also several aerial shots of locations that I felt really emphasized a sense of the vastness of our world while also giving scope to the vast control of the fictional IBBC bank. Vertigo might sweep through you on some of those high-altitude Milan shots, but push past it to gape in spite of it.

I was pleased that those rough spots I'd noticed in the early viewing had been, for the most part, fixed. It was much easier to follow the convoluted plot in the final version and I didn't find Naomi Watts nearly as annoying as I did the first time around. Much of this is thanks to the elimination of the subplot involving her home life and family issues and a poorly executed romantic attraction between her and Clive's Salinger. Instead we get a scene of her working through the night with a
frisson of her husband's displeasure with her workaholic ways. It doesn't arrest the pace or plot as it once did. We're not in this for her family angst; we're along for the ride with Clive and the bad guys.

This is really a boy's club of a movie. Watts is there for the female vote and she lacks the charisma and onscreen presence to put any real heft behind her attempt at a balls-to-the-wall ADA. I thought she was extraordinary in The Painted Veil, a movie I like more and more every time I see it. It's filled with fascinating character moments, especially as a good percentage of the film involves barely any words being spoken. Watts excels at presenting her character journey, revelation, and transformation in this difficult non-verbal arena, but this skill is misplaced in a thinking action film like
The International.

That said at least she's been pared down and tightened to be as little a distraction as possible for someone who is carrying the secondary lead. And to be fair, it's hard to be paired up with someone who carries the hot diggity damn charisma that is Clive Owen. He smolders his way through the film, his righteous indignation nearly vibrating off the screen. Clive's Salinger grows rougher and rougher around the edges as the film progresses, his outer deterioration reflecting his inner turmoil as he gradually discovers exactly what depths he will sink to in order to bring down this bank.

The villains are ably represented. Armin Mueller-Stahl does his always nuanced elder bad guy variation on a theme. If his sly evil creeped you out as much as it did me in Eastern Promises, this return to the weary, veteran spymaster/manipulator role will be welcomed. As head of the IBBC, Ulrich Thomsen oozes the corporate insouciance that values people's lives by where they fit on a balance sheet. And Brian F. O'Bryne keeps death coming as the assassin du jour, highlighted with whiz bang ferocity in the climatic shoot out.

The Guggenheim Museum shoot out. Oh my giddy aunt. When I first saw the film as part of the marketing group, I gasped and chortled my way through this shoot out, equal parts aghast and exhilarated by the fact that they were shooting up The Guggenheim!

Maybe that's why they haven't asked me back since.

And what a shoot out it is. Since I absolutely cannot see the museum allowing a movie production to actually shoot its famous rotunda to bits (though clearly they filmed the less bang bang shots on location), I cannot begin to tell you how they did it. In a world where the next big moment is often obviously shot against a green screen, it's nice to see movie magic where I can't differentiate the real from the make-believe. This entire sequence totally rocks. Bullets fly everywhere with whole chunks of the rotunda exploding from one moment to the next. The film clicks along up to this point with the info dumps and the murders as the pieces of the puzzle coming together and then - Boom! It all explodes at the Guggenheim.

It's eerie, how on point this film is about the financial world today. Not about managing the armaments etc. per se, but about managing the debt created by these criminal dealings as well as more legitimate banking ventures. Art imitates life perhaps too keenly here as we daily see news of new economic debris from greedy management. This particular too-close-to-the-truth plot has no doubt impeded the movie's overall success as people are perhaps more interested in escapism oriented films right now, but don't let the weighty associations of The International
keep you away from this robust, meaty, good ride of a film.

You'll be missing out.

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