Friday, February 13, 2009

Images you can bank on -- and little else

I didn't get to see "The International" until the night before opening, which -- come to think of it -- might have been a blessing. This thriller from director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run" and "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer") has a plot that's as tangled as the current financial situation -- if a lot less dire. Had I seen the movie earlier, I might have spent more time trying to figure it out.

Say this, though: "The International" sprawls across the globe finding some of the best locations of the year in France, Italy, Turkey, the U.S. and Germany. That's not surprising because Tykwer knows how to create astonishing images, and, in this visually impressive effort, he receives a major assist from cinematographer Frank Griebe, who also shot "Perfume," a movie that seemed incomprehensible in far more intriguing ways.

Looking half-deranged -- no, make that fully deranged -- Clive Owen plays an Interpol cop who's trying to expose the evil doings at The International, a bank that's involved in arms sales to the highest bidder. Owen is joined by Naomi Watts, who seems to pop in and out of the picture at random. She portrays a Manhattan DA who's also involved in the case.

A long, destructive and skillfully executed set piece set in New York's Guggenheim Museum shows more respect for bloody genre conventions than for art or architecture, which is odd because Tykwer has a keen and acute visual sense. There are great shots of Berlin office towers, and the views from Istanbul's rooftops are at once bracing and mysterious. If I were a student of cinematography I'd race out to see "The International" because Tykwer seems incapable of framing a dull shot. Too bad he's not equally incapable of directing a movie with a plot that ties itself in knots.


Katherine said...

I saw the same showing -- and have to disagree with Bob's assessment of the plot as tying itself in knots. Watts's character's involvement in international intrigue as a local Manhattan DA is a little tough to swallow, but once you buy in to the fact that higher-ups in various world governments and law enforcement are under the thumb of the international bank, it is easy to get into the "David vs. Goliath" flavor of this picture. Smart dialogue, a focussed plot, and strong acting make this a better-than-average thriller reminiscent of good flicks from the 70s. You might not buy the premise of an international bank with evil managers, but I like that the movie does not dumb itself down for the lowest common denominator audience.

Robert Denerstein said...

Yes, in general, the movie certainly is understandable. But isn't there a difference between a dumbed-down plot and one that follows the dictates of narrative logic; i.e., one that makes sense?