Saturday, 27 June 2009

DVD Preview: The International (released on 6th July in the UK)

Filmed in 2007 and finally getting a theatrical release early in 2009, The International seems like a remarkably prescient sort of film with its central premise that the world's banks might not always be working in our best interests. There's no credit crunch recession here, though, just the notion of a massive multi-national banking corporation, The International Bank of Business and Credit (derived from the now-defunct real world BCCI) lining its pockets by providing weapons and small arms to third world countries and terrorist interests. Shambolic Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi watts) are on the case, determined to bring the dodgy banking cartel to its knees. Cue much frantic rushing around some of the world's most photogenic cities as the pair follow up a series of increasingly-fanciful leads which move them closer and closer to the heart of the conspiracy.

In many ways The International reminded me of a modern Bond adventure. With the days of the world-threatening Bond super-baddies apparently consigned to the dustbin of camp '60s cliches it's not hard to imagine a grim-faced Daniel Craig rushing from city to city, Walther PPK in hand, icily determined to bump off a bland banker in a suit. Instead we have the reliable, if fairly unremarkable, Clive Owen in another of his trademark scruffy bugger roles, scowling for Britain and sorely in need of a good wash and brush up as he charges about Europe and New York in pursuit of an assassin who is the key to reaching the bank's Mr Big. It's an entertaining enough yarn but it's clear that director Tom Tykwer is much more interested in his cinematography than his story or his characters. The International looks wonderful, with locations ranging from Berlin, Milan, New York and Turkey - and Tykwer brings out the best in all of them. His shots are beautifully-framed, highlighting the stunning architecture of each of his locations, never afraid of long shots and high shots to showcase the majesty and stateliness of each of the cities. But at times I was so busy gawping at the scenery I was forgetting to pay attention to the plot.

At first The International plays out like some Cold War thriller with secret poisonings, conspiracies, an assassination, rain-lashed Berlin streets. For the first act the movie rarely breaks into a sweat but when the action moves to New York so does the adrenalin level in a stunningly-realistic gun battle in the Guggenheim Museum. It's here that the story finally starts to engage and pick up enough momentum to carry the audience towards a rather anti-climactic 'What just happened...?' conclusion. The film's not best served by a dry and humourless script and a fairly uninteresting cast of characters who tend to behave a bit like cyphers and don't seem to offer the promise of any real life outside the confines of this particular story (although, interestingly, one long deleted scene gives Salinger some much-needed backstory and the hint of an attraction between him and Whitman - probably excised from the final cut because it's not alluded to anywhere else in the movie). Naomi Watts does her best in an underwritten role but the writers seem to give up the ghost towards the end as she disappears from the narrative atogether for the last half-hour.

Despite being a bit bland and soulless The International is worth a look for its production design (the reconstruction of the Guggenheim in an old warehouse is astonishing) and Tykwer's camera love affair with his locations. As a thriller it rarely thrills but it's a brisk and efficient little movie which, if nothing else, will make you feel like you've been on several short-break holidays without ever leaving the comfort of your armchair.

The DVD: The film looks breath-taking enough on standard DVD so the Blu Ray edition must be a thing of beauty. Special features are pretty standard; a decent 30 minute 'making of', some featurettes on the location filming and that Guggenheim facsimile as well as a deleted scene and commentary.

The International is released on DVD and Blu Ray in the UK on 6th July 2009

No comments: