After the singularly overreaching mindfuck of Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, it was perhaps inevitable that graying Run Lola Run wunderkind Tom Twyker would follow up with something less personal and ambitious. Sure enough, The International follows in the footsteps of the recent Bond reboot and the Bourne movies, with a slick, accomplished globe-trotting thriller about nefarious deeds in high places. The International has a top-flight international cast headlined by the high-wattage duo of Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Its premise aches with timely resonance. It’s directed with meticulous artistry. So why does it ultimately feel so empty and forgettable?
Owen lends his sad eyes and haunted intensity to the role of an Interpol agent investigating a sprawling, enormously powerful bank out to make a killing in more than just the financial market. As he gets closer to the truth about an international dynamo with sidelines in money laundering, powerful weapons, and destabilizing regimes in Third World countries, bodies pile up, and the scope of the bank’s dirty dealings begins to crystallize. Naomi Watts has a perversely thankless role as a Manhattan assistant D.A. who aids Owen in his quest to uncover the truth.
It’s hard to imagine a better time to release a thriller about an evil bank—public faith in financial institutions is at an all-time low, and bank executives are regularly vilified for chicanery that makes mean old Mr. Potter look downright benign by comparison. But in The International, the sneering bank baddies are frustratingly generic; they’re really no different from the evil law firms of John Grisham novels, or the arms and drug dealers of countless action-thrillers. As an exemplar of pure craft, The International has much to recommend it, like a stunning setpiece that finds Owen shooting it out with the villains at the Guggenheim museum, and a touching supporting turn from Armin Mueller-Stahl. Yet even Twyker’s weakest films have a sense of personality that’s largely missing from The International. He’s such a consummate auteur that it’s a little disconcerting to see him playing the role of craftsman for hire.