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Shocks and awe

The International

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"Uh, doesn't this jerk know staring is bad elevator etiquette?"
  • "Uh, doesn't this jerk know staring is bad elevator etiquette?"

*The International (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

The timing of this smart, savvy thriller couldn't be better, what with its corporate-banks-are-evil theme and a hero who yells at banksters that he wants "some fucking justice." And, of course, Clive Owen is always welcome on my movie screen.

The International is like the answer to my wish after Owen's bit in The Bourne Identity, in which he burned up the screen as an assassin, I wanted the whole movie to be about him. And here it is.

The International, from director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and newbie screenwriter Eric Singer, is so good at whipping up global conspiracies concocted in boardrooms that we might as well put on our tinfoil hats and declare this part of a real conspiracy. Perhaps it's some sort of pacifier thrown our way by our capitalistic overlords so that we can get our justice jollies voyeuristically via Owen's angry Interpol agent, instead of carrying pitchforks and peasant torches ourselves.

Whether it's part of a secret plot or not, this movie is satisfying in a lot of ways and not just in the getting-some-fucking-justice sense, either. Surprisingly old-fashioned in its adherence to solid, unpretentious suspense, The International is exhilarating for its craftsmanship and low-key style, too.

We join Owen and Naomi Watts (as a New York City assistant district attorney) in progress as they try to nail the International Bank of Business and Credit for some Very Bad Things that could, arguably, be deemed crimes against humanity. Owen's agent is twitchy in his hindered authority: He's ex-Scotland Yard, eager to bring down these banking bastards, and doesn't want to be limited to Interpol's information-gathering mandate. Watts is his unruffled counterpart, sleekly professional and calmly competent. (Refreshingly, their investigation is not complicated by romance, though the two actors sizzle with creative chemistry.)

As they trot around the globe Berlin, Milan, Istanbul the feeling that we're watching a great episode of Law & Order: Europe, full of coolly elegant Sherlock Holmes-type stuff, gives way to superbly executed action excitement, such as a foot chase through a crowded Turkish street market and a shootout at New York's Guggenheim Museum that is an instant classic. It reminds you why filmmakers so often resort to gunplay: because when it's pulled off well, it is uniquely thrilling.

Then come the plot twists: things I never saw coming and should have. At one point during the Guggenheim bit, in fact everything I thought I knew about what was going on took a 180-degree turn ... and then moments later, took another 180 that, were normal physics involved here, should have taken us back to where we started, but instead take us into a whole new realm. It's awe-inspiring not just in a storytelling sense it's a thrill to be genuinely startled by a movie but also in an artistic way. So there really are still filmmakers out there who aren't content merely to do work that is good enough, but better than we ever might have expected.

I didn't realize it until long after the movie ended, but there's a huge plot hole that should have ruined that Guggenheim sequence. But I don't care. The International is so entertaining that I can forgive that one small flaw. Because this is one of those movies that feels like it goes on forever, in a good way, like you don't ever want it to end and are sorry when it does. And how often can you say that?

scene@csindy.com

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