Tom Tykwer’s latest movie, The International – although a welcome break from schoolwork – proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. Cover-ups, underhanded financial and military dealings, murder, and deceit: all these are tried and true ingredients of a conspiracy film, but Tykwer deployed these aspects in an uninspired way.
Clive Owen plays Agent Salinger, an Interpol agent investigating international crime organizations and money laundering facilities. Naomi Watts plays Agent Whitman, Salinger’s New York counterpart, investigating the New York branch of the primary bank in question, the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC). The bank, which criminals use to launder money, is becoming a weapons dealer – this is Salinger and Whitman’s main concern. Owen and Watts do well with what they are given, but overall the plot just seems all too familiar and unoriginal. The acting in the film is well executed, but the story never comes together fully and as a result, the movie falls flat.
The International touches on issues of conspiracy, and perpetuates the idea that money can resolve any legal obstacles when thrown in the face of international crime. Resorting to murder and bribes, the bank continually eliminates those who could potentially betray their plans. This tactic, or a version of it, has been employed in many previous films, such as The Manchurian Candidate and The Pelican Brief. Any movie that involves a conspiracy theory involves violence, disappearance, and suspect deaths. The International has all three. Granted, some of the action scenes, especially the one that takes place in the Guggenheim, are creative and brilliantly filmed. Watching the destruction of a museum I had walked through for the first time just last year was definitely a new experience for me. Although shoot-out scenes are the bread and butter of action films, this one had a different twist and taste of reality to it. At the height of intensity, a bystander’s cell phone rings and relieves some of the tension, something I personally haven’t seen before.
Overall though, I remained unimpressed by the film. The International reminded me of Lord of War, which directly addresses the trafficking of weapons to third world countries to perpetuate conflicts and increase profits. In The International, the IBBC aims to become a trafficker of small arms to third world countries from China – not with the goal of controlling the conflict, but of controlling debt and therefore the country. However, where Lord of War brought some humour to the depressing and devastating issue of arms trafficking, giving it a more unique spin, The International was all serious, all the time.
To the film’s credit, its ending is realistic: everything Salinger and Whitman attempt to prevent happens anyway, and the film finishes with fictional newspaper headings, detailing how evil and corruption have triumphed. The International attempts to expose the darker side of finance and its immense influence on world politics by showing connections between the bank in Luxembourg, weapons manufacturers in China, a military intelligence company in Italy, and freedom fighters provided with the weapons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It shows that the people in power are not to be trusted and that justice cannot be served except for outside the law.
The film presents a bleak view of reality, one where the bank is clearly stronger than the combination of Salinger, Whitman, and the law. However, this time there is no victory for the underdog. Instead, the film reinforces the idea that money and power can be more important than the legal system, and our world is doomed to be run by money-hungry financial institutions.