Friday, June 26, 2009


The Wright stuff

By Edward Copeland
After having sat so recently through the pointlessness of the "thriller" Taken, Tom Tykwer's The International engaged my brain and my senses more than it probably had any right to, but I'll take two hours of riveting, if muddled at times, intelligent thrillmaking to an hour of mindless violence (let's face it: Taken's first half-hour was just domestic squabbling to stretch out the running time) any day.

Tykwer, who had showed his stuff with films such as Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior, teams Clive Owen and Naomi Watts as an Interpol agent and an investigator in the NYC district attorney's office trying to take down an international bank involved in some worldwide arms dealing. Get this: the film doesn't even try to shoehorn a romance between its attractive leads into its compelling story.

The film also works as a wonderful travelogue bouncing to recognizable sites around the world. I hate to keep going back to Taken since the plots of the two films are so different, but where Liam Neeson's character never runs into any roadblocks in his quest in that film, Owen and Watts seem to be thwarted every moment they start to get somewhere and it only ratchets up the suspense.

What's even braver of Tykwer and the script by Eric Warren Singer is that it has the guts for ambiguity in its ending.

All the actors are strong in the film, including supporting turns by Armin Mueller-Stahl and Jack McGee, but Owen really powers the enterprise. His obsessed, running-on-fumes agent with a checkered past is a great character turn instead of your standard leading man action hero turn. Watts doesn't get as much to do, but she does fine as well.

Tykwer's direction is taut and the film's fabled Guggenheim Museum setpiece deserves the kudos it received. It earns comparisons to Hitchcock, not because the film, as good as it is, is anywhere near his level but by using such a recognizable landmark for an exciting piece of cinema.

If the thought of a new Michael Bay-directed large-pieces-of metal-blow- things-up-real-good turd deafening theatergoers this weekend depresses you, stay home and save your ears and your brain cells by watching The International instead.

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I agree, I thought The International was so refreshing in the grace and intelligence of its storytelling, and in its attention to craft and visual aesthetics. It probably shouldn't be so startling to find a mainstream thriller with actual substance and subtlety, but considering the competition this film is especially enjoyable. It's no enduring masterpiece or anything, but it's solid and well-made, and has some thematic heft behind its suspense, much more than can be said for the blunt, brainless Taken, not to mention countless other modern action/suspense films.
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