27 May 2009

THE INTERNATIONAL (Dir. Tom Tykwer, 2009, US/Germany) - 'I am more comfortable tense...'

Clive Owen as Interpol Agent, Louis Salinger

Clive Owen as an unkept interpol agent, wearing a long (brownish) mack and supporting a scornful look on his greyish stubble seems about right for an actor who continues to play the same anti-hero role he enacted in the splendidly directed ‘Children of Men’. Owen was the difficult British actor the producers were unable to intice to the brand that is Bond, having to settle (for the time being that is) with the bullish charms of Daniel Craig. As Louis Salinger (allusions to The Catcher in the Rye abound here) Owen fails to break a smile in the entire film. But how can this be? Well, the contempt and frustration Salinger harbours towards the international banking system extends from the apparent lack of transparency and more importantly, the moral impunity with which banks operate in third world countries. Tom Tykwer’s latest film, ‘The International’ appears on the surface as a rich political thriller and for most of the time, it is a polished and slick production, but it seems to lose much of it’s momentum towards the final third of the film. I would have liked to have seen much more of a edgy conclusion to the film as it wasn’t really in keeping with Owen’s character of Salinger, a representative of civil justice who should have pushed the boundaries by imitating the disillusionment of a figure like Harry Calahan. Tykwer’s major problem with this film is that it functions and takes place within the universe of genre and not auteur. Very little of Tykwer as a film maker can be identified in the film apart from the use of music and the thematic value of pursuit. The political thriller is perhaps one of the few Hollywood genres that offers some scope in terms of social commentary and questioning within the conservative parameters of the mainstream. This has certainly been the case with recent films like ‘Michael Clayton’ and ‘Syriana’ but such ideological discussion is limited in Tykwer’s film as the $50 million budget demand that set pieces punctuate the human drama.


Director, Tom Tykwer filming on location in Istanbul with Clive Owen


Inspired by the collapse of The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) during the late 80s in which a litany of fraud and corruption was exposed as a form of regular practise, Eric Singer’s screenplay draws upon such a grim financial reality to offer his own critique on the unaccountable nature of banks today and how they are uniquely autonomous in their exploitation of armed conflict around the world. Though Tkywer knows how to shoot architecture, positioning Salinger in an underwhelmingly powerless relationship with the banking corporation and their vast eddifices of invincibility (The International Bank of Business and Credit), it is the characters that suffer from a case of narrative predictablity and generic inertia. I’m sure the Guggenheim sequence will be much celebrated and feature regularly in an obscure top ten of recent memorable action sequences, but for me the most telling moment comes when Salinger meets Umberto Calvini, the head of a powerful weapons manufacturer, who informs him very cautiously that the entire system of banking is built on control, the control of debt and our enslavement to it. This seems to be the crux of the film’s underlining ideological argument and it is chillingly reiterated through the end credits in which Salinger's active attempt to take on the banking corporation for their untouchable status is ridiculed as an exercise in futility.

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