The International on DVD

Thursday, 02 July 2009 14:01

“The International” is a contemporary conspiracy thriller that also feels like it would not be out of place as a long-lost Harry Palmer espionage movie from the Sixties. Clive Owen stars as Louis Salinger, a dogged, jet-setting Interpol agent on a mission to expose the arms-dealing activities of the International Bank of Business and Commerce.

Assisting Louis is Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), a New York District Attorney under pressure to deliver results before her bosses pull the plug on the investigation. As the film opens, Salinger witnesses a fellow agent’s shocking murder by a seemingly invisible assassin and thus, from the outset our protagonists realise the stakes have been set colossally high. As they pursue their case against the bank right across Europe and beyond, each stone they upturn leads to further clues, but more often than not is accompanied by onerous collateral damage.

The International on Region 2 DVDAs driven as Salinger is, he quickly comes to understand that if he and Whitman continue to wage war on the bank, should success even be possible, it will inevitably come at immeasurable cost to themselves and their associates.

Crafting a successful thriller such as this is a difficult proposition; doing so when your subject is a bank would initially appear to be an impossible challenge. Director Tykwer has to strike a balance between atmosphere, plot revelation, action and character development. Overdoing one or two of these elements risks underplaying the others, which potentially undermines the entire movie. “The International” succeeds in most regards, but its real strength is atmosphere.

The film features a staggering array of stylish, global and yet somehow uniformly austere sets and locations. Representing Big Business are dauntingly huge structures made out of glass, steel and concrete. A prime example is the inspired use of the VW Autostadt complex in Wolfsburg, pretending to be a branch of the IBBC. These buildings have immense foyers and cold, impersonal offices that alienate Louis and the audience, and successfully convey the scale of his challenge.

The camera occasionally pulls right back for a bird’s eye view of proceedings. At these points, Louis and the people around him are insignificant black specs, ants moving around a much larger arena that seems impervious to their influence. Other locations also convey this sense of scale and captivating architectural design, if not the austerity, such as the stunning Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Turkey. The majority of the sets are shot in a muted colour pallet that drains the warmth out of everything, and reinforces the impression that Salinger will find little humanity or help within the walls of these monolithic organisations.

Despite this, Clive Owen effortlessly convinces us that Salinger means business, and his determination to get to the bottom of the bank’s illicit activities means that although he is the real underdog of the piece, there is always a belief that he might just overcome the odds. Facing him is the IBBC’s board, a shady collection of men who are equally keen to undermine the investigation by any means necessary. It helps that the bankers are not monotone characters, but rather a varied collective with a common goal but different ideas on how they will achieve it. They are led by the steely Jonas Skarssen, played by the Sting-like Ulrich Thomsen, and also include the ever-dependable, soft-spoken Armin Mueller-Stahl as Wilhelm Wexler, and Patrick Baladi as Martin White, an executive full of joyful contempt for our investigator. Regrettably, Naomi Watts is a little underused and her character is underdeveloped.

Tykwer manages to create a fair amount of suspense and excitement, though not as much as some of the most famous genre entries such as “The Day of the Jackal” and “The French Connection”. The obligatory sharp-shooter scene is captivating, keeping both the characters and the audience guessing how it will unfold. We also witness car chases, foot chases, tense shadowing of suspects and interrogations – all staples of the genre, and dependably rendered here. Without a doubt, though, the stand-out action set-piece is a sizzling shoot-out in the Guggenheim (or rather an incredibly realistic recreation of that architectural wonder). Bringing to mind the raw energy and tension of the bank heist in Michael Mann’s “Heat”, the scene finds Salinger pinned down by waves of goons with Uzis. Tykwer uses the verticality of the set to rain bullets down on our hero from all directions, and enthusiastically tears the building apart in the process. We also discover that, in a choice plot twist, if Salinger’s going to get out of the museum alive, he might have to seek help from an unsuspected source...

Ultimately, “The International” is a solid film. It is not a genre classic, but it is definitely worth a go if you enjoy spy thrillers and are looking for something a little more realistic than an old-school Bond film. I definitely recommend the Blu-Ray version over its DVD counterpart - the fabulous locations and architecture demand the extra sharpness and detail that format allows - though the DVD edition is perfectly acceptable!

They are both released on 6 July 2009, priced £19.99 on DVD and £24.99 on Blu-Ray, or less from

Both formats share a decent set of special features, including a writer and director commentary track, a 30-minute making of, one extended scene, three featurettes dedicated to the construction (and subsequent destruction) of the Guggenheim set, the architecture used in the film and the VW Autostadt, and lastly some trailers for other films.

"The International". (Tom Tykwer, 2009)


Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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