- Written by Peter Burnett Peter Burnett
The business of film is to produce satisfactory, profitable and widely acceptable product. That’s why they call it an industry and not an art, and that’s why films like The International become acceptable, when in fact they’re not. I also feel that audiences are corralled by productions that have in themselves not been made for the correct reasons.
In this example, I am guessing that a young buck of a writer could not get the idea out of his head that the Guggenheim in New York was the perfect place to shoot a gunfight. This rankles because it shows that some people really can’t visit an art gallery and enjoy it — without imagining it being shot up by spies or robots. Not only that but when the gunfight comes it is stupid, and unrealistic.
There are guns going off everywhere, with masonry flying and no one ever running out of bullets — you know the kind — and while real gangsters may occasionally shoot it out in this life, they do not do it in public.
A film with the scope The International is always going to be bursting out of its skin. In real life, you will never find yourself in a small almost unnoticeable scene, which with the help of a cliché such as ‘I’m going to have to take you off this case.’ You’ll maybe notice tiny scenes like this, joining everything up, abut then it will be too late. You will have seen half of the film and have to sit around for the rest, if only for some answers — even if you have to provide them yourself.
What’s clear is that somebody loves. From the day when he was in the Guggenheim Museum in New York and thought ‘what a great place for a shoot out’, to the day he finished his script
The International is supposed to be a thriller with brain-power as well as fire-power, but anyone who falls for that is playing the game too hard, and needs a reality check. The difference is that there is no romance or love element, which is a welcome change, but every other thriller staple is there — barging through public spaces with guns, chasing along streets, corridors and racing in cars, poring over documents, getting punched, cornered and wearinmg cool clothes.
I am not however clear regarding the role of Armin Mueller-Stahl in the International. His credibility as an actor is not fatally wounded, but it is not a clear role. In his later years, Armin Meuller-Stahl has worked with Ron Howard, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh and Barry Levinson, and has also been appearing as a singer and a painter. He confessed to the Hollywood Reporter in 20112 that he had been thrown out of acting school for an intractable attitude towards theory, and when he tried to join Bertolt Brecht’s theatre, he didn’t quite make it as he was ‘too west’ for the director.
Mueller-Stahl continued to be a little ‘too west’ for many directors and projects, which ideologically required actors to be more on the proletarian side, but in 1975, he received a TV break in Das Unsichtbare Visier, an Eastern German James Bond clone, but his westiness became too much for the authorities and at the age of 50 in 1979, he was banned from acting in East Germany and given permission to leave for West Germany
In concluding Armin Meuller-Stahl’s role, the writer Eric Warren Singer pops a paraphrase from Milan Kundera into the character’s mouth — blankly, Clive Owen returns that he has no idea what the man is talking about. I didn’t either. Thus, Armin Meuller-Stahl’s role emerges as a construct, a position that is assembled through the manipulation of the scripting process, and determining what must then be done. It is not a clever way to write, because the characters become functionaries, and as such have no ‘characteristics’. As such, we see very little of what lies behind the characters, and although we see a few of them at home, their homes are bland like they are, with no personal or defining aspects.
The International seems seduced by the silly theatricals of the genre but unwilling to entirely embrace them. Even the character of Jason Bourne has some ‘characteristics’ but we don’t know anything about Clive Owen’s character or Naomi Watts’ character, who live for their work and never share any other single detail. Worse, Naomi Watts, who has turned up elsewhere with Armin Meuller-Stahl, adds virtually nothing — and weak as she is — if you want true horror, see the remake of Funny Games in which she appals — there was probably some pressure at some point to have a female lead in it, and so like so much else here, she was dreamed up, tacked on, and doen so with no thought or emotion.
The screen ignites with Clive Owen’s rainy, stubbly scowl — but you’ll also enjoy Patrick Baladi (Neil from The Office, for me) — and if you like any old thriller that will pass the time, then you’ve probably already seen The International.