The International

The International

When someone tells Clive Owen to go play in traffic, he's man enough to do it.

(Columbia) Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Brian F. O’Byrne, Ulrich Thomsen, James Rebhorn, Jack McGee, Michel Voletti. Directed by Tom Twyker

Given what is happening in the world economy today, most of us have come to the conclusion that bankers have shuffled off what morality they may have had and are operating strictly on a greed motivation factor. Still, even given their reprehensible behavior nobody is ordering contract killings…at least so far as we know.

Louis Salinger (Owen) is a hard-bitten Interpol detective who has been investigating the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) for a long time. Every time he gets close to nailing them for ethical or legal violations, witnesses recant, die or disappear. Currently he is working with Manhattan assistant D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Watts) investigating corruption in the Big Apple having to do with the bank. Eleanor’s boss (Rebhorn) sounds the cautionary bell but the two plunge on.

However, it appears to be happening again. Louis’ partner dies of an apparent heart attack that was brought on by what might have been a lethal injection after meeting with a bank insider, who shortly thereafter perishes in a car accident. From then on Salinger is looking for leads, running up against dead ends and generally acting pissed off in various locations around Europe before following a likely bank-employed assassin back to New York. After a shoot out in the Guggenheim finishes off the assassin, Salinger recognizes that he cannot get justice via ordinary means. He will have to resort to extra-legal methods.

The above plot synopsis is really a bit of an injustice to this very complex and engaging movie. German director Twyker has a very good sense of pacing and utilizes the locations nicely, capturing the wealth and power of the IBBC and those who orbit around it. Those who remember his signature film Run, Lola, Run will appreciate The International’s twist and turns as well as its compelling action sequences.

Owen has the hangdog, unkempt and sleepless look of a man caught up in the throes of his own obsessions (which Salinger surely is). Only in the eyes does Owen allow Salinger’s consuming rage to show through. That his performance is so nuanced is a credit to Owen’s abilities as an actor; that his character is so easy to root for despite the fact that he’s a bit of a jerk cement my opinion of Owen as a major movie star coming into his own.

Usually I like Naomi Watts but she seems a bit lost here. While there is no romantic connection for her to play off of Owen with, the chemistry between the two seems nonexistent, like two people who work in the same building and recognize the face enough to exchange nods in the hallway. Surely two people who have been directly in the line of fire as these two are depicted would have at least more of a bond?

This is a bit of a police procedural (I never knew that Interpol agents were not allowed to carry firearms) and a bit more of an action film. The Guggenheim sequence, with Owen and his allies running down the ramps of the iconic museum in a running gun battle with black-suited assassins hired by the bank is as marvelous an action sequence as you’re likely to see. Not only would it do the James Bond series proud, but the way Twyker edits the sequence together would bring the warm fuzzies to the heart of a Hitchcock aficionado as well.

Yeah, the storyline can be confusing upon occasion, particularly in the second act and Thomsen as the head banker Skaarsen is a bit bland, which weakens his position as lead villain a bit. Mueller-Stahl is a terrific character actor who manages to be chilling and charming at the same time, something like finding out a beloved grandfather was once a serial killer.

Even though I give it only a mild recommendation because of some of the tendency to over-plot as well as for some of the gaping holes in logic that result, if I think about it I’d probably give this a higher rating after revisiting it in the future. Tom Twyker is a terrific director working with a terrific actor and movie star in Clive Owen. Something tells me that a few years in the future this movie may wind up being a watershed first encounter between two talents who I believe are destined for big things in this business.

WHY RENT THIS: The behavior of IBBC is appropriate given the recent behavior of major financial institutions contributing to our current financial crisis. The action sequences are breakneck and satisfying. Clive Owen is, in my mind, a big star.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the financial biz stuff is fairly boring. No chemistry between Owen and Watts. The storyline can be confusing in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of violence coupled with a good deal of bad language. You make the call.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The set for the Guggenheim Museum, in which a major action sequence takes place, was built in an abandoned locomotive warehouse using the original blueprints from the Guggenheim.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Most of the usual featurettes, deleted scenes and commentary.



New Releases for the Week of October 16, 2009

What could be wilder than to howl at the sunset with your pack?

What could be wilder than to howl at the sunset with your pack?


(Warner Brothers) Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forrest Whitaker. Directed by Spike Jonze

One of the most beloved children’s books of all time is brought to life by innovative director Spike Jonze, who has Adaptation and Being John Malkovich on his resume, along with some of the most visually arresting music videos of the past 20 years. This is the story of Max, a young boy who feels neglected and misunderstood at home, and thus runs away to the island where the Wild Things are. The Wild Things long for someone to lead them and Max is more than happy to fulfill that need, until he discovers that leadership – and being a Wild Thing – is a much more complicated endeavor than he thought it would be.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language)

The Boys are Back

(Miramax) Clive Owen, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, George MacKay. When an Australian sportswriter’s wife dies suddenly, he is left with a young son to raise on his own. His life is further complicated when a teenaged son from a previous marriage joins the family. The father, who had left most of the child-raising to his wives, decides on a unique method that causes some friction with other parents, but allows his boys to heal and thrive.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual language and thematic elements)

Law Abiding Citizen

(Overture) Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney. When an upstanding family man’s wife and daughter are brutally murdered, the pain he goes through is nothing compared to what happens when the ambitious district attorney cuts a deal with one of the suspects to testify against the others in exchange for a lighter sentence. Ten years later, the suspect is found murdered and all the evidence points to the family man, who warns that unless the flawed justice system is fixed, all those connected with the trial will die. As he follows through on his threat, the district attorney races against time to protect his own family and stop this law abiding citizen from exacting his revenge.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language)

More Than a Game

(Lionsgate) LeBron James, Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton. This is a documentary about a group of five guys from Akron, Ohio – talented basketball players all – who come from a background of great adversity. Through teamwork, friendship and their own remarkable skills, they come together on a journey to a state high school basketball championship. Their loyalty is tested when the spotlight begins to shine on future NBA superstar James, who becomes the most heralded high school player in the land. This uplifting story will be augmented by rare video, home movies and personal interviews that will illustrate the cost of excellence, and that nothing is impossible when the will is there.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for brief mild language and incidental smoking)

Paranormal Activity

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Friedrichs, Ashley Palmer. Here’s a movie that benefitted from a unique marketing campaign; the trailer consisted of views of an audience watching the movie during a preview screening, and a website was created for moviegoers to vote as to whether the movie should be given a wide release. The vote came in affirmative, so this movie is getting a much wider release. It also helps that the movie is said to be genuinely scary. The premise is simple – a couple who believe their house might be haunted set up cameras to capture what goes on in their house while they are trying to sleep. The general consensus is that this is not for those who are easily disturbed or frightened.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language)

The Stepfather

(Screen Gems) Dylan Walsh, Penn Badgley, Sela Ward, Sherry Stringfield. A remake of the 1987 horror classic of the same name, a young man returns home from military school to find his mother co-habiting with a new boyfriend. Everything seems fine on the surface, but little things begin to crop up to make the young man suspicious of the new man in his mother’s life. As the facts begin to come to light, he realizes that this perfect stepfather may be hiding a darker side that could have deadly consequences for everyone the young man loves.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and brief sensuality)

World’s Greatest Dad

(Magnolia) Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara, Michael Thomas Moore. In this movie directed by comic Bobcat Goldthwait, Williams plays a high school poetry teacher whose life hasn’t gone the way he envisioned it. His son is an insufferable prick, the beautiful woman he is dating refuses to publically acknowledge him and his career has stalled. A freak accident gives him the means to the fame and fortune he has always craved, but only if he can live with the circumstances under which he acquired them.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language, crude and sexual content, some drug use and disturbing images)


A rare occasion when the leads see eye-to-eye.

A rare occasion when the leads see eye-to-eye.

(Universal) Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Rick Worthy, Denis O’Hare, Oleg Shtefanko, Kathleen Chalfant, Khan Baykal, Carrie Preston, Christopher Denham, Thomas McCarthy, Wayne Duvall. Directed by Tony Gilroy.

Events of recent years have convinced most of us of one thing – most corporate entities have zero sense of morality and even fewer ethics. While granola-eating sorts have been suspicious of corporate America for decades, many of their worst fears have proven to be true. I wonder what these people who we once called paranoid will think when they get a gander at Duplicity.

Ray Koval (Owen) is an MI-6 agent working in Dubai when he meets Claire Stenwick (Roberts), a gorgeous woman working at the American consulate. Being a kind of ladies man, he takes the girl to his hotel room where she drugs him and takes from him some Egyptian missile codes. Turns out she works for the CIA. Koval’s career takes a header because of the incident. This would have never happened to James Bond.

A few years later we meet Howard Tully (Wilkinson) and Richard Garsik (Giamatti), CEOs of rival shampoo companies Burkett-Randall and Equikrom, respectively. They have a mutual loathing that goes beyond business rivalry and has moved into the realm of personal vendetta. Both are paranoid about industrial espionage and have hired former government agents to commit counter-intelligence against the other. When Tully announces a revolutionary new product that will change the game forever, Garsik knows that it is a matter of corporate survival for him to retrieve the formula of the unknown product and market it before his hated rival can destroy him.

We discover that both Stenwick and Koval are working as corporate intelligence experts; one for Burkett-Randall, the other for Equikrom. They are in the perfect position – and have all the right skills – to make a play of their own for the big prize. Because, as we are told through a series of flashbacks, the two have found a serious mutual attraction for each other. However, the game is afoot and there are plenty of twists and turns the two must navigate if they are to make the big score, the most treacherous being that they must first learn to trust one another.

Tony Gilroy previously directed Michael Clayton so he’s capable of directing a good movie. While his previous effort had many twists and turns, this one puts it to shame in that department. Often you don’t know whether you’re coming or going, and nothing is ever what it seems. The unconventional storytelling method (we’re basically shown two parallel stories, one the current corporate espionage tale, the other the evolution of Ray and Claire’s relationship and how they got from bitter rivals to romantic partners.

Owen and Roberts are attractive leads. They’ve worked together once before (in Mike Nichols’ 2004 drama Closer) and the chemistry between them is reasonably good. Owen, in particular, comes off not unlike a modern Cary Grant. However, they are truly outshined by their supporting cast. Giamatti and Wilkinson are two of the better actors working today and they are at the top of their games here, Wilkinson as a driven industrial titan, Giamatti as a corporate pirate with a cult of personality not unlike Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Preston also has a nice couple of scenes as a corporate travel agent seduced by Ray and then interrogated by Claire. That interrogation scene is one of the most memorable in the movie.

While Gilroy occasionally captures the American corporate culture dead on, in a way it’s more of a parody of a typical American corporation. Considering what actual corporate pirates are getting away with these days, these guys seem like buffoons by comparison. And I have to admit that the ending, while unexpected (which I generally appreciate), came off like one twist too many for me. Still, this is a reasonably intelligent caper movie, well-written for the most part and with plenty going for it. I can recommend it on that basis, but it clearly isn’t one of the high-water marks for the genre. Then again, it doesn’t really have to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-written, intelligent caper movies are hard to come by these days. The leads are attractive and have decent chemistry. Glittering performances by the supporting cast, particularly Giamatti and Wilkinson.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Storytelling method can be a mite confusing at times. Plot twists and turns get to be the movies raison d’etre rather than an element of the plot. Ending was one plot twist too many.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual situations and mild language, but otherwise nothing you’d be embarrassed to bring the kids to.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Julia Roberts’ character Stenwick was named in honor of the late actress Barbara Stanwyck, who made the iconic Double Indemnity.