"Fiction has to make sense." Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller Stahl in The International)
It should but doesn't apply to The International, an underwhelming thriller whose biggest draw is some fine photography of some fine world cities such as Milan, Berlin, Luxembourg, and New York. The film is inspired by scandal at the 1991 Bank of Credit and Commerce International in Pakistan, where Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein among others matriculated.
A multinational bank dealing in arms sales is an obsession with Interpol investigator Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and to a lesser degree Manhattan assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts).
While the lesson that debt in foreign countries makes banks powerful political partners for small countries answers some questions and applies to the current world fiscal crisis, that big bank involvement never seems like a big deal for a movie. Although there is plenty of mayhem to recall Jason Bourne's (Matt Damon) globetrotting shootouts, nothing here seems important enough.
However, a set piece worth the price of admission is the shootout in Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum. The set, built in Germany, is an impressive facsimile although I am stumped to figure out why the gunplay is there rather than, say, the Bronx Zoo. Bullets and glass fly in a welcome relief from the lassitude of the first part of the film. In this scene, the museum becomes a target gallery right down to the falling glass ceiling.
Comparisons with other bad-corporations thriller are natural, a few of the most notable being Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, and most recently Michael Clayton. Just mentioning the names of these high-class productions reveals the paucity of greatness in The International, except for that memorable Guggenheim busting scene.
Ironically director Tom Tykwer, best known for his frenetic and rewarding Run, Lola, Run, shows his style only at that moment. Go figure.