Berlin 09 Review: The International

After sixteen years of festival going, you’d think I’d understand about opening night films. In short, they suck. For every Four Weddings and a Funeral, there are about 400 Enemy at the Gates and for every Good Night and Good Luck, there are a few dozen stinkers like this year’s Berlinale opener, The International, directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). The thing is, that’s ok. The German public will likely be charmed by the film’s many Euro locals (included Berlin) and it’s quite possible that the subtitled dialog is better than the original English, although somehow I doubt it. Screen Daily’s Fionnuala Halligan has it right when she writes “the dialogue itself seems to come from Karate Kid.” One of the choice “mal mots” being “Sometimes you have to know which bridge to cross … and which to burn.” Ugh.

Clive Owen stars as the world’s angriest Interpol agent Louis Salinger (pronounced “Louie”….really?), wearing either a scowl or a grimace throughout the film and Naomi Watts has basically nothing to do as a Manhattan DA who’s only job, it seems, is to utter preposterous dialog while keeping a straight face. In a farcical attempt at a red herring, the script tries to set up sexual tension between the two with Watts grilling Owen on his haggard appearance thusly: “When is the last time you got any sleep?” “I don’t know.” “When is the last time you ate a healthy meal?” “I can’t remember.” “When is the last time you got laid?” “Is that an offer?” Blech. Needless to say, she’s married and the rest of the film has about as much sex appeal as a turkey sandwich. And then there’s the moment after Owen is grazed, in the face, by a bullet and his NYPD escorts asks: “Are you ok?” My friends and I practically screamed: “No! I’ve been fucking shot in the face!” Clive? He grunted his assent.
The plot involves a Luxembourg-based mega bank called The International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) that is supposed to be an evil multinational that murders whole families in order to stay in business bogey man but the film barely reaches the suspense level of the old Carly Simon-scored 1970s Heinz ketchup commercial. It’s Bourne and Bond stripped of virtually all the action and thrills, The Parallax View sans any paranoia or suspense and as far as evil doers go the law firm and their clients in Michael Clayton were far better villains than this film’s collection of faux-sinister bankers cum arms dealers.

The film’s lone action set piece, a massive shoot out between a hit squad sent by the IBBC on the one side and Owen plus a couple of NYPD officers on the other, is set in a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum rotunda and takes so long to conclude, one has to wonder if all the cops in Manhattan decided to go for coffee all at once. This is only one of the many absurd moments in this mess of a film which is ironically summed up by one more fortune cookie snippet of dialog, this from Armin Mueller-Stahl: “Do you know the difference between truth and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” Apparently not.

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