Despite an intriguing opening, in which an Interpol agent is murdered on a bustling street with a Soviet-style, brush-against-you poison injection, The International isn’t pitching itself at Jack Ryan territory, but weirdly, at The Da Vinci Code, substituting that film’s behind-everything boogeyman of institutional Catholicism with international banking, while retaining some of its particular inanities, like the ability of the heroes (a determined man and wrist-tugging woman, natch) to walk into a fresh crime scene and almost miraculously reconstruct the goings-on that preceded their arrival, as a means of moving a baldly artificial plot forward.
Interpol gumshoe Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) is first seen with a wrinkled suit, five o’clock shadow, and messy desk that don’t exactly peg him as a go-getter, but the thumpy Euro-tech score that kicks in whenever he walks provides an artificial mojo that leads him first to the morgue, where he, not the coroner, determines the unnatural cause of his colleague’s death. From there, he’s off on an unauthorized, cross-Atlantic clue hunt that would stretch even James Bond’s budget, though if Bond had a traveling companion who looked like NYC district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), rest assured he wouldn’t restrict himself to on-the-level case talk and vague utterances about the old days and injustices like Salinger does. When coupled with the implacably boring nature of the bank malfeasance investigation that follows, the strident, handshake relationship between Salinger and Whitman is enough to make one nostalgic for thrillers from the Joel Silver era, with their let’s-stop-at-this-hotel-for-the-night ethos.
At the heart of the conspiracy is the International Bank of Business and Credit, a Luxembourg-based bank administrated by the kind of stock Euro villains who make teepees of their hands while calmly ordering a hit and ruminate aloud on the nature of doing business in “the black and gray latitudes,” which is evil banker-speak for laundering government money for illicit arms sales and facilitating coups (as well as presumably stealing some of our bailout money). How the IBBC is able to pull off newsworthy daylight assassinations, even of prominent politicians, has to do with some kind of ill-defined, worldwide hands-off policy that all governments adhere to, lest they all be implicated in the bank’s doings, a laughable conceit that nevertheless lays the track for the film’s one showstopper set piece, a balls-out Uzi battle between fed-up IBBC gunmen and Salinger that destroys multiple decks of Manhattan’s Guggenheim museum. What passes for an attempt at sobering things up afterward involves Salinger and Whitman kidnapping IBBC board member Wilhelm Wexler (a frail and sickly-looking Armin Mueller-Stahl) and convincing him to turn (with sloppily-written, faux-earnest exchanges about doing the right thing), but by that point even completists of director Tom Tykwer will have written this shoddy film off like so much bad debt.