Reviews

The International

Tom Tykwer's thriller shrewdly introduces Lou (Clive Owen) as he observes rather than acts.


The International

Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brían F. O'Byrne
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Columbia Pictures
First date: 2009
UK Release Date: 2009-02-27 (General release)
US Release Date: 2009-02-13 (General release)
Trailer

Slick and superficially complex, The International provides Clive Owen with the role he plays perfectly: world-weary, occasionally addled, shrewdly moral man of action. In the past, Interpol agent Louis Salinger's efforts led him into deep trouble and disrepute. Still, he's clawing his way back, pursuing bad guys and seeking something like justice. Still, and even as he knows the pervasive, utterly efficient reach of the enemy, he means to make right what is so very wrong with the world, namely, the inextricable connections among international arms sales and banking.

It's a daunting task, to say the least.

Tom Tykwer's thriller shrewdly introduces Lou as he observes rather than acts. Standing across a busy Berlin thoroughfare, he watches his partner meet with an informant inside a car. Lou can't hear what goes on, but you can, which means you have slightly more information than he does, but of course, you have no idea what to do with it. The partner makes his way from the car toward Lou, but something goes terribly wrong (that much, you can anticipate), and Lou is left splat in the street, slammed by a vehicle inadvertently. Cut to an emergency room examination, where the doctor wonders whether he has blurred or double vision. No, Lou says, "Nothing." In the moments that follow, he thinks more about what he's seen and missed, the failures of his vision. "I was right there," he repeats, "I saw him go down. I didn't see a thing."

What Lou has seen -- at least before the trauma in Berlin -- has him working with New York Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts). They have uncovered, to a point, the nefarious dealings of a bank, the fictitious IBBC, including money laundering, gun-running, murder, and sustaining Middle Eastern unrest in order to ensure that all clients, large and small, remain in debt, forever, and moreover, that everyone, large and small, is a client, eventually. The brilliance of IBBC's scheme is its implacable comprehensiveness, its invisibility and also its hypervisibility.

Inspired by the history of the Bank of Credit and Commercial International (a.k.a. the "Bank of Crooks and Criminals International" and shut down in 1991 following the discovery of its many corruptions, buttressed by a private intelligence network, diplomatic agents, and trading companies), Eric Singer's script is elaborate and mostly mournful, punctuated by spurts of fierce violence. As Lou and Ellie try desperately to see the scheme, to put together the pieces so they might bring legal action, their view is repeatedly obstructed -- more than once by IBBC executive Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl). His participation occasions Lou's effort to decipher his motives: a former Stasi chief, Wilhelm seems an unlikely raging capitalist, and yet, as he explains it, his transformation was premised on his own longtime-coming insight, that the unbeatable system can only be joined.

Lou resists, of course, and the movie tends to privilege his noble endeavor, as he (and the movie) leave Ellie behind, ostensibly so that she might go on precisely because she is at least partially and willfully blind. Lou's plot, by contrast, turns into an extravagant structure of seeing, as looking is made its own form of action and means of control. Forced to work outside official auspices, Lou conducts and also evades surveillance, with such images variously trustworthy or abjectly false. His pursuit is largely organized around a search for the assassin employed by IBBC, referred to only as the "Consultant" (Brian F. O'Byrne). As he expertly avoids being seen -- his face turned precisely from airport security cameras, his appearance so bland as to seem missable, even forgettable -- but as Lou redetermines his focus, suddenly the killer becomes increasingly perceptible.

This process achieves an exhilarating climax in the Guggenheim Museum, where a prolonged shootout -- involving the Consultant, Lou and a gang of thugs put in place by the bank. This set-piece -- lengthy, intricate, and strangely satisfying -- pretty much renders the rest of Lou's do-gooding escapade secondary. As abstract as the space becomes, the camera pointed up and down, roving and retreating, it also makes concrete the political and ideological back-and-forthing, the lack of moral ground, and chaos of all-consuming desire. Midway through the scene, blood erupting and civilians screaming, the point can only be fundamental survival. As Lou drags his broken, bruised body from the scene, he leaves behind an array of corpses on multiple floors and walkways, the camera pulling out to observe the gory red on white tableau. There is no "winning" here. Only seeing.

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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