Tom Tykwer’s thriller The International does for corporate bankers what The Firm did for corporate lawyers. Fact is, there are some really nasty people out there — If you are an Idi Amin lookalike with a big ego, alleycat morals and ambitions to take over Liberia, you don’t keep your spondulicks under the bed or in the Post Office. The Royal Bank of Scotland is a little unethical, but there’s always the International Bank of Bent Crooks (IBBC).
IBBC is run by a tasty geezer called Skarsen. He’s a (literally) bloody nightmare — like Fred the Shred, but competent. HQ is a cavernous Docklands Glasshouse in Strasbourg, containing no more than a squad of half a dozen suits who spend all day striding portentiously around the building, plus a girl on the front desk to make the coffees. From here various bent arms deals, political assassinations and devilish Whale Nuking expeditions are planned and executed, cynically ignoring all risks. The aim is to control everything by indebting everyone.
Clive Owen is Louis Salinger, an Interpol goodie, accompanied by a very nice but slightly underpowered Naomi Watts, the New York DA who does most of her best work on her blackberry. Clive is just the man for the part. In a Newsweek interview promoting the movie, he boasted about not being afraid of badgers, and drinking his afternoon tea solo “because He-men don't need biscuits.” Tough Guy. Jason Bourne isn’t afraid of badgers either, but he does nibble the occasional hobnob.
Pitted against the dynamic duo is the International Bank of Crooks and Conmen, aided and abbetted by some unpleasant Teutonic bent coppers with steelrimmed glasses and Gestapo Dentist manners. There could be badgers, too, but I didn’t notice them. Kind of underground fifth column. Or was that Narnia? Anyway, everyone becomes a busy bunny banging away at all the others with various shooters, including a shootout to die for in the Guggenheim, which zaps the entire building until it’s an oversize concrete Swiss cheese full of holes. Boring? I don’t think so.
Locations are well handled, from Haghia Sophia to an Italian Arms manufacturer’s Tracy Island HQ. The plot is complex, sometimes slightly in danger of disappearing up its own rear end, but just manages not to. You’ll have to discover its full complexity for yourself, but the basic dea is that big banks are run by ruthless greedy people, who enrich themselves by indebting others, whose hubris brings the whole lot crashing down without any regard for decency, ethics or international frontiers. How insane is that for a plotline?
Finally, I won’t spoil the ending, but Agent Salinger ends up as yet another self-sacrificing redeemer. So we’re good for passiontide. This is a kind of two-and-a-half out of five movie, best avoided by the squeamish. I suppose the big question I was left with as “If international Bankers are indeed crooks and conmen, why bother with shooters, when they could make far more dosh perfectly legally by just being their own selfish incompetent hubristic selves — they still get to control the world by indebting governments and the old ladies lose their pensions without a shot having been fired in anger?” It’s all a powerful argument for keeping your sponduliks under the bed or in the Post Office.