Watching Tom Twyker's "The International" methodically unfold, I couldn't help but wonder if he pitched it to Clive Owen as the chance to show the James Bond producers just what they missed out on when they passed over Owen and went with Daniel Craig instead (a close call, but I'd have to now say the right one.)
Indeed, Twyker's flick, while not in the same league as "Casino Royale" or any of the best Bond flicks, is a darn sight better than "A Quantum of Solace" and - in my book (and quite possibly mine only) - a more satisfying thriller than any of the Bourne flicks except for maybe the first.
Beyond its natural charms, I think a big part of what made this one so surprisingly entertaining was that it's also much better than its trailer, one of the worst I've seen in years. Thankfully, Tykwer and crew avoid anything as obvious as that shot of the ATM with "murder" as one of the choices, and instead of seeking to make a much-too-broad (but surely well-deserved) indictment of the current state of the banking industry just focus on the rather shady dealings of one in particular.
That bank here is the IBCC (I can't remember exactly what that stands for, but you can probably guess), which is apparently modeled on a real, crooked bank with the same initials. Rather predictably, the IBCC is involved in arms dealing and other unsavory operations, and are being doggedly pursued by Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen, at his grizzled best) and a Manhattan assistant D.A. played by Naomi Watts. Actually, I should say pursued by Salinger, because Watts' character - in the movie's biggest flaw - is truly given just about nothing to do here.
But on the much bigger upside, it really stands as a litmus test for thrillers. If you like pulse-pounding action (which I'm really not putting down, though it may seem like it, since I have plenty of love for that kind of thing too), stay away from this one. Tykwer instead lets his flick unspool naturally, at a pace and with a style much closer to the '70s thrillers that clearly inspired it than many of the pretenders that have come since.
Also in its favor is that Tykwer and screenwriter Eric Singer have made their flick smarter than the average thriller, but only by a matter of degrees, never biting off more than it should (unlike, say, "Syriana," which tried to say so much but ended up amounting to not much at all.)
The signature scene of "The International," however, is clearly the one instance in which Tykwer amps up the action, a beautiful bullet ballet that takes place inside the Guggenheim museum (how in the world did they get the permission for that?) It's a marvel to behold, in large part thanks to cinematographer Frank Griebe, who here and elsewhere thankfully manages to hold his camera steady among all the chaos (I hope Paul Greengrass was watching this and taking notes!) He also allows the flick to take full advantage of its many scenic locales (which Christy LeMire of the AP rather unfortunately labeled "architecture porn" - what the hell does that mean?)
A final word (since this has clearly gone on long enough) about that seemingly climactic shot in the trailer of Clive Owen holding bank boss Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen) at gunpoint. Even here, in what seemed to be (and in large part was) an unfortunate giveaway, the movie takes a twist (which you won't hear about from me) that steers it back to its biggest theme - futility.
In short, if you're in the mood for an old-fashioned thriller that's just smart enough to thoroughly entertain, take a chance on "The International." Peace out.