The International is hardly the arresting, trenchant arresting potboiler it purports to be, though it makes some striking use of its worldwide locations.
Starring Clive Owen, Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller-Stahl, the new big-budget effort from Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run) reinforces the emphasis on production, and its ornate strategies, over character and story detail.
A decidedly European feel is prevalent here as the title here refers to the IBBC, a swankly stalwart institution headquartered in Luxembourg.
The script by scenarist Eric Warren Singer has the concept in place for the sinister ways that ranges from money laundering to terrorism when it comes to financing and bartering of armaments. The antecedent was a bank based out of Pakistan that rose through weapon sales and assassination from the 1970s for nearly two decades.
Owen's edgy, unshaven Interpol agent Louis Salinger (once with Scotland Yard) sees the demise of a fellow worker while a high-tech missile guidance system is being dealt in Berlin. He quickly joins with Watts's NYC Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman to get after the haughty, urbane folks behind all the malfeasance.
Obstacles ensue for the sweaty Salinger and the energetic Eleanor after the IBBC viciousness seems to have hit Milan.
The chief spectacle of The International occurs in the Big Apple at the Guggenheim Museum (massively recreated in Berlin except for opening shots) where, by happenstance, a gun-for-hire known as the Consultant (Brian F. O'Byrne) comes into view for our intrepid, dogged anti-hero. It turns out to be quite a destructive setpiece for the architectural wonder on the Upper East Side in a showcase of heavy artillery around shifting visual walls and the gallery.
Thus, the elaborate execution of The International reflects the filmmakers attentiveness to highlight a variety of places, like Lyon, and a panoramic Istanbul in the climax on a rooftop encounter or in a subterreanean cistern. Unhappily, Salinger and Eleanor are given short shrift in the character department as Owen and Watts have been able to sketch out more on their end to greater effect in recent efforts as Shoot 'Em Up and Eastern Promises, respectively. O'Byrne exhibits a kind of curvy creepiness, while Mueller-Stahl latches onto the dark maturation of corporate bigwig William Wexler.
Ultimately, a supposedly gripping thriller doesn't ignite any drama, getting from Point A to B similar to the recent Quantum of Solace. The somewhat pulsating filmmaking, reflected in the score, may diffuse the desired efforts to bring some incisiveness to corporate affairs. And, it feels a bit prickly and steely for its own good, like Salinger himself, to come off as superior espionage cinema.