' Cinema Romantico: The International

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The International

Ladies and gentlemen, I have found the new action hero for these most bleak and despondent times and it is the Clive Owen of "The International". He is disheveled and unkempt. He hasn't showered or shaved any time recently. His clothes are wrinkled and sometimes they have blood stains, not that he notices or cares. He never employs kung fu, never dangles underneath a helicopter, and when he does find himself in a fight with a bunch of bad guys he doesn't simply wind up with the traditional tiny cut on the lip or miniature scrape on the forehead, he gets his frickin' ear shot off. He hasn't had a good night's sleep since who knows when, hasn't had a decent meal in no one knows how long, and hasn't gotten "laid" in, as they say, a coon's age. He's not acting based on noble ideals or because he's just "doing his job". No, no, no, the Clive Owen of "The International" is pissed off.

As Interpol agent Louis Salinger, Owen, along with New York DEA Eleanore Whitman (Naomi Watts) is hot on the trail of some hideously evil operation known as the IBBC, based out of Luxembourg and brokering deals for missile guidance systems to African nations in the midst of war because, as it is explained at one point, if you "control the debt" then you control everything. There was much ado prior to the film's release about the villain being a bank and the timeliness of such a plotline but, really, it's just window dressing. They could have subsituted any faceless villain for the sinster IBBC and had their movie.

Also faceless admist all the obligatory globe-trotting to exotic locales is Watts as Salinger's pseudo-sidekick. I love Naomi Watts, I do, but her acting is based so much on being realistic and in a film like this you've got to scale more melodramatic heights, you know what I mean? Whereas Owen can take a putrid, absurd line like "the toughest thing in life is deciding which bridges to cross and which ones to burn" and somehow render it convincing, a line like "the truth means responsibility, Arnie" turns to mush in the hands of Watts. It's a bad line, Naomi, we know, and you're not gonna' save it, it's okay, so turn up the volume!!!

And despite a blistering setpiece at the Guggenheim involving an extended shootout, the movie certainly gets way too speechy at certain parts as if trying to reinforce the fact it yearns to be an actual commentary on the state of the world. At it's heart, "The International", as directed by Tom Twyker, is an action movie, and I've been a proud subscriber to the notion for, oh, about 20 years that action movies should be lean and mean (a la "The Bourne Supremacy", still far and away the finest film of the genre this decade).

But all in all, I think the movie gets both its kicks and its timeliness via that lead performance by Owen. He's standing in for our dour global mood. I rolled with him. Since seeing the film I've read a few reviews that have cited his lack of a backstory as a negative trait and to his I retort that Owen's character doesn't have any time for a backstory, damn it. What, you want a guy this harried to sit and give some monologue about his "motivation"? I imagine it going like this: "You want me to tell you my wife and kids died in some terrible explosion triggered by the IBBC but the fact is that never happened. This company's crap. This situation's crap. This world's crap. I've taken some names, now I'm gonna' kick some ass. Any other expository questions or can we stop wasting my time and yours?"

Schwarzenneger in "Commando" only went into action when his daughter was kidnapped and Keanu Reeves only turned up in "Speed" when that bomb wound up on the bus and Batman was and is trying to save his city and Jason Bourne was trying to figure out who in the world he was. But Clive Owen in "The International"? It's like I said, he's pissed off. About what? Everything, anything. He's pissed off like you're pissed off right now and like I'm pissed off right now and, well, sometimes it's just nice to go to the movies and all be pissed off together.

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