'The International'


Arriving when the global banking system is in meltdown, the premise of the Berlinale's opening-night film, "The International" — which sees a cabal of exquisitely tailored European bankers collude with arms dealers and the Mafia while the world looks on — doesn't seem like a stretch. Hopscotching across continents and as consumed with big ideas as it is enthralled by great architecture, Tom Tykwer's glossy, high-finance conspiracy thriller is a spectacular-looking film with an unsettling intensity.

One of the more commercial releases to come out of Germany and featuring a multinational cast worthy of its title, "International" should resonate in European territories. Its timely theme and globetrotting visuals could translate to sizable domestic boxoffice as well, though that might depend on whether audiences will invest in a story concerning the nefarious practices of corrupt bankers.

A lone man raging against the machine, Salinger (an intense Clive Owen) is a driven Interpol agent obsessed with bringing down the IBBC, a Luxembourg banking enterprise whose résumé includes war profiteering and murdering anyone who stands in its way. (Brian F. O'Byrne as a spooky assassin is like a coiled animal ready to strike.)

Salinger teams with a Manhattan D.A. (an uncharacteristically dull Naomi Watts). Their partnership, the expository dialogue and in particular a prolonged, far-fetched shootout at the Guggenheim Museum are weaknesses in an otherwise intricately plotted script by Eric Warren Singer.

Punctuated with bursts of explosive energy, "International" is a contained, cerebral film. Rapture is reserved for dramatic modern architecture, which is equated with power and control, a reflection of how master manipulators view themselves. (Uli Hanisch's production design and Ngila Dickson's costumes are superb, as are tech credits throughout.)

Salinger meets his match in IBBC "adviser" Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a former Stasi functionary. In their metaphysical exchanges, staged as a verbal duel between idealists on opposite ends of the spectrum, Wexler observes that the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. And though in fiction the good guys win, this film paints a murkier scenario.(partialdiff)