The International at the Berlin Film Festival

Who is the bigger criminal? He who robs a bank or he who founds one? Early on in this all-star blockbuster, which had its world premiere at the 59th Berlin Film Festival on Thursday, a Machiavellian Eurobanker explains: “This is the very essence of the banking industry … to make us all slaves to debt.”

Later, Armin Müller-Stahl’s former East German communist zealot warns Clive Owen’s dishevelled British Interpol agent that his mission to expose villainous bankers is doomed since all governments, terrorist groups and crime syndicates depend on the same deeply dodgy financial institutions for their survival.

What a topical, subversive opening to the Berlinale this could have been: Berthold Brecht meets Jason Bourne. Alas, it swiftly becomes clear that The International is not The Brecht Ultimatum but an old-fashioned action thriller in superficially modern clothes. Owen and his legal-eagle partner Naomi Watts are less interested in tackling global financial injustice than in bringing down a single Luxembourg megabank heavily involved in arms dealing, coups and organised crime.The International is the first Hollywood studio feature from Tom Tykwer, the young German director best known for his dazzling 1998 breakthrough Run Lola Run and his 2006 adaptation of Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume. A thrill ride from Berlin to Milan, New York to Istanbul, it clearly aspires to the grittiness of the Bourne films but falls short in substance.
Surprisingly, given the film’s essentially formulaic ingredients, there is no hint of romance between Owen and Watts. But perhaps that’s for the best, since Owen’s rumpled anti-hero is far too busy seeking The Truth to make time for relationships. He is also given to unintentionally comic aphorisms: “Sometimes a man can meet his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” Pretty deep, dude.

The International is partly redeemed by Tykwer’s signature visual flourishes, especially his choice of architectural backdrops: Zaha Hadid’s BMW factory in Wolfsburg and Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin both appear, disguised as high-tech offices. Meanwhile, the film’s pivotal machinegun battle takes place inside the spiralling stairways of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, perhaps the most ostentatiously illogical location ever chosen for a clandestine assassination attempt.

But The International is ultimately let down by Eric Singer’s cliché-studded script, larded with stock characters and lines that would have sounded clumsy in a 1970s TV cop show: “He wants my ass on a platter.” Pardon?

Some day, the venality of the present financial crisis will inspire a great film. The International is not it.

The International opens in Britain on February 27

Source: Times Online

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