The trailer had set up The International as some big-bang espionage thriller, made all the more sexier since it's released in the middle of this financial meltdown we're all experiencing, asking where have all the money gone, with banks collapsing left, right and centre, or on the brink of doing so if tons of public funds are not injected into the rabbit hole of the system that hasn't really bottomed out yet. But then again, watching or theorizing if the premise is remotely possible, since it involves a corrupt bank gone rogue in some misguided vision to make more profits, or to gain control of debt in third world economies, might not sit well with an audience already in doom and gloom, given some moral ambiguity all around, and the half-baked ending too.
I have enjoyed a number of Clive Owen films, especially those that he's the smarty-pants, able to whip up roadblocks for his adversary. It's a departure for him here, and for fans I guess as well, with his Louis Salinger, an ex-Scotland Yard and current US Department of Justice agent, being quite the loser and always one step behind the bad guys. He can operate an Uzi, but needs more practice at a target range. Investigations wise, he's as frustrated as anyone caught up in office politics and the drawing of jurisdictions, and has a shady past he's not proud of.
Which somehow adds to the credibility of the character. A super-agent would have spotted the assassin based on simple memory recollection, but here, he's flawed, which makes him all the more believable. Naomi Watts too as his tag-team partner Eleanor Whitman seems more at home behind the office desk, though sad enough her character's the proverbial Flower Vase, decorative and nice to look at, but offering nothing much in terms of character and story development, other than to cover the rear of Salinger in the office boardroom.
Basically the film offered some thinking points, and makes you wonder if any large corporations, if without proper governance, could be susceptible to a moral rot from within, controlled by the few at the apex of the organization, making dubious decisions to proliferate arms and motivate political takeovers – with coups and assassinations being but tools of the trade, and all these need money, which banks have loads of in their vaults. And bringing down banks isn't easy because of the multiple stakeholders being involved, from the humble depositors, to states and nations.
In terms of production values, this Tom Tykwer film doesn't scrimp, jet-setting the cast throughout Europe – Italy, Luxembourg, Germany and Turkey – in living up to its namesake. The musical score is also notable for its perfectly crafted tune to keep you at the edge of your seat, only for the narrative to fizzle out unfortunately.
The International had an intriguing premise, but failed to live up to it. The ending too was a letdown, despite the realization that things must happen outside the established system, almost suggesting vigilantism, but alas something more pragmatic was presented, and running out of steam, the film just abruptly aborts itself. Too bad for local audiences as well, because we've traded one intense shootout sequence at the famed Guggenheim Museum for the censored version to cater for a PG audience. Clive Owen movies got no respect these days by distributors here.