- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

Could “The International” be any more topical? The title villain of this gripping action thriller is a big, bad bank.

“The International” grabs you from the get-go with one of the most dramatic openings in a while. A long look at Clive Owen’s face as he stands in the rain sets the somber mood. He’s waiting outside the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, watching a meeting take place. Two men are in a black sedan. One is clearly some sort of law enforcement officer, the other an executive ready to blow open the officer’s case. The exec talks about an arms deal his bank is about to make. The officer can’t figure out why a bank would be dealing in weapons.

He doesn’t have much time to puzzle it out. Within seconds of leaving the car, the officer collapses. Mr. Owen, who turns out to be Interpol agent Louis Salinger, rushes to his aid. It’s too late. If he didn’t already have reason to pursue the International Bank of Business and Credit, he does now.

Actually, Salinger has been obsessed with the multinational bank headquartered in Luxembourg and run by Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen) for quite some time. His sense of justice is keen. So is his partner’s. Louis is a loner, while Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) is married with a child, but they share a determination to bring down the bank, which aims to be the Third World’s top source of Chinese weapons. Whoever controls world conflict controls not only its politics, but its debt. It’s a bit complicated, but the evil of Skarssen and his multicultural group of henchmen is not.

“The International” might take us through familiar territory, but Tom Tykwer, the German director of “Run Lola Run,” is a careful stylist who knows how to make it look new. (And real. Even the phone numbers are real in this film — no 555 numbers here.)

The movie travels through Berlin, Lyon, Milan, New York, Istanbul and beyond, and Mr. Tykwer takes full advantage of these beautiful locations, both ancient and modern. They make the exciting action sequences even more so. A gunfight in the Guggenheim, with a heady barrage of bullets, should qualify as one of the most thrilling action sequences ever. Art lovers will shudder when a chandelier comes crashing down in the rotunda of the New York museum, but no worries — the scene was filmed in a full-size replica.

The bass-heavy but understated score — written partly by Mr. Tykwer — helps make this a particularly moody thriller. So do the actors. Mr. Owen, more than any other actor, always brings a mood with him. His face alone could tell most of this story. Miss Watts, by turns tough and vulnerable, is a worthy partner. The supporting cast members hold up their end of the bargain, particularly Brit Patrick Baladi as the bank’s counsel and German Armin Mueller-Stahl as its “cleaner.”

That cleaner just might be looking for redemption, but that’s hard to come by in this messy world. The International seems to be based on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, headed by a Pakistani, and Permindex, headed by a Canadian. The CIA was rumored to be involved with both, and it’s suggested here that the International can never be dealt with through normal, legal channels for just that reason.

“The International” is certainly an action thriller for our times.

★★★

TITLE: “The International”

RATING: R (Some sequences of violence and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Tom Tykwer. Written by Eric Singer.

RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes

WEB SITE: everybodypays.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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