The International | Clive Owen and Naomi Watts have crooked bankers in their sights

Filmmakers have it tough these days. Whoever they pick as their villain, an interest group somewhere is bound to take offence. With The International, though, director Tom Tykwer has found some bad guys almost everyone in the audience can unite in hating: bankers.

Yes, it’s a dastardly bank (only one?) that is at the heart of a larcenous conspiracy that is causing mayhem around the world in this gripping – and, oh dear, so topical – thriller.

Determined to bring the evil bankers to book, however, are Clive Owen’s dogged Interpol agent Louis Salinger and Naomi Watts’ no less tenacious New York assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman, who are following a global trail of money laundering, arms dealing, terrorism and political assassinations. But the international bank they have in their sights, the IBBC, is a slippery foe…

The International - Clive Owen’s Interpol agent Louis Salinger & Naomi Watts’ assistant DA Eleanor Whitman

Inspired by the activities of the shady BCCI (dubbed the Bank of Crooks and Criminals International), which was founded in Pakistan in 1970s and collapsed in 1991, The International is a thriller that pushes all the right buttons in these credit-crunch times, stoking the viewer’s feelings of outrage and injustice as every fresh enormity by the bank is revealed, and then offering the possibility of vicarious revenge.

As one of the duo attempting to deliver retribution on our behalf, Watts is largely wasted, her role diminishing as the plot advances. But Owen is great, even if his expression – dour and determined – barely changes throughout the movie. Yet dour and determined is what the story requires. There’s no place here for Bond-like witticisms or Bourne-style heroics. Owen’s cop is an ordinary man, not a superhero.

The International - Clive Owen’s Interpol agent Louis Salinger hunts his prey through Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

That’s not to say that The International doesn’t thrill. Twkyer, maker of the flashy, techno-driven thriller Run Lola Run, stages some great set pieces, including an assassination at a political rally in a Milan square and a ferocious shootout at the Guggenheim museum in New York, a sequence that makes imaginative use of the gallery’s famous spiral ramp and leaves a series of artworks shredded. Watching the scene, I thought for a moment, as one video installation after another took a battering, that a gang of militant anti-modernists (Stuckists, perhaps?) had invaded the building. But, no, the gunmen are yet more of the bank’s lethal minions.

In the week when disgraced ex-RBS boss Fred Goodwin has refused to give up any of his huge pension, we probably all need an outlet for our pent-up feelings of indignation and resentment towards the financial world’s one-time masters of the universe. A movie won’t change anything, but The International does deliver, if only briefly, a moment of catharsis.

(General release from 27th February)


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