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The International: Hardly Credible But Still Intriguing

If ever there was a time to release a movie about a nefarious bank, it's now. And yet the movie barely lays a finger on the financial industry. Even if you assume that banks do wield the levers of power, that their mission is -- as the movie puts it -- to get us "addicted to debt," and that they purposely foment civil wars in Africa to advance their own interests, that's still no excuse for banks to shoot high officials in public or send a dozen men armed with machine guns to destroy the interior of a famous building in front of hundreds of witnesses. That's the whole point of an evil institution. It doesn't have to get its hands dirty. Who needs assassins when you've got lobbyists?

Without shootouts and villains, though, you can't have a thriller, and it isn't often a movie turns geopolitics into an absorbing adult adventure. The International operates on a higher level than most movies simply because it functions in a world that vaguely resembles our own, instead of relying on the ridiculously fanciful twists of last year's abrasively idiotic Vantage Point. (This season's Euro-thriller Taken made Vantage Point look like North by Northwest.) The trail of deception, vengeance, and murder, along with the cyclone of chaos that emanates from the most placid surroundings in The International's central scene, is carefully calibrated. However the final act doesn't stir much interest. We've long since learned that the bank is so sinister that its depravity will continue regardless. Yet a one-on-one chase is exactly what the film expects us to fall for. It also wants us to accept some questionable philosophizing.

Nonetheless, Tykwer's muscular craftsmanship is enough to carry the film. The International can't compete with the great 70s thrillers it attempts to emulate, but it's a dogged and sober work -- far more enticing than the usual grab bag of stunts in other films of the same genre.

The International

Directed by Tom Tykwer

Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl

3 stars/ 4

120 minutes/Rated R