The International Review

The International is an odd fit for Tom Tykwer, one of the most interesting European directors working today. Plodding, ponderous and completely pedestrian, it succeeds in wasting the talents of both a distinguished cast and the bold, imaginative filmmaker who gave us Run Lola Run. A by-the-numbers conspiracy thriller, it pits Clive Owen's maverick Interpol investigator and Naomi Watts' workaholic assistant DA against a crowd of global arms smugglers cum assassins who receive their funding from a major international bank, enjoy meeting in coldly lit Mittel-European locales and speak in the sort of clipped, hushed tones that filmmakers seem to believe lend gravitas to any situation, however derivative. There's something rather timely about a film about a ring of crooked bankers, given the current financial situation, but also something incredibly disingenuous, as the movie happily fritters away its multi-million dollar budget on a worldwide romp that takes in the sights of locations as diverse as Luxembourg, Milan, New York and Istanbul (it's called The International for a good reason) without once giving the impression that any of this globe-trotting matters a damn.

Owen does his usual downbeat "lost soul" routine, and Watts serves no apparent purpose other than to deliver exposition while looking sexy. Even a great actor like Armin Mueller-Stah can make nothing of the material, while Tykwer seems to be on autopilot throughout, doing little more than tossing out some admittedly striking compositions with the help of regular cinematographer Frank Griebe and the natural spectacle of the diverse array of locales. He employs the slick, cold, ultra-modern, ultra-calculated visual sensibility that many of his fellow German filmmakers possess (Robert Schwentke is another), and it serves as a welcome antidote to the hyper-kinetic, unplanned shakycam fiascos favoured by many of today's action filmmakers (Paul Greengrass, take note). Still, only once does he truly seem interested in the material, staging a terrific shoot-out in a replica the Güggenheim Museum in Manhattan that brings the film fleetingly to life. It's the production's stand-out set-piece and something that really deserved a better film.

If The International was Tykwer's attempt to break into the American mainstream, then he succeeded admirably. The film is as slick and soulless as anything else being put out by the major studios at the moment, and absolutely none of the qualities that have marked out his previous films are to be found. One to avoid.

Why is it that the weakest films so often end up getting the best transfers? The International may be the best-looking BD title I've seen yet - it's certainly in the top three or four titles in my collection. The film was shot in a combination of Super35 and the Arri 765 65mm process, although it's not entirely clear which scenes are which. In any event, the film is as sharp as a tack throughout, whether we're talking extreme close-ups or extreme long shots. Some of the wide establishing shots are just breathtaking, and likewise the tighter shots allow you to see every pore and hair on the actors' faces. The grain looks dense and natural throughout, and I could spot nothing untoward in the way of compression artefacts. This really is a terrific, terrific-looking disc that I believe raises the bar in terms of what we should be able to expect from a BD release. Exemplary. (Please see my web site for full resolution screen captures.)

Audio, too, impresses, coming in English and dubbed Italian Dolby TrueHD 5.1 affairs. From its opening frame, convincingly placing the viewer bang in the middle of a heavy rainstorm, to the bass-heavy Güggenheim Museum shoot-out, to the quieter, more dialogue-driven moments, this is a solid mix that satisfies on all fronts. Subtitles are provided in the usual mind-boggling array of languages, covering the film and, to a more limited degree, the subtitles.

The extras, all of which are presented in 1080p high definition, consist of a commentary with Tykwer and writer Eric Singer, a portentous 30-minute documentary, an extended conversation between Owen and Watts, and a trio of shorter featurettes focusing on key subjects - the Güggenheim, the production design, the Autostadt. We also get a bunch of trailers for other Blu-ray releases, as well as a picture-in-picture feature, "The International Experience", which has the downside of requiring you to watch the turgid film all over again. There's some BD-Live-powered online chat hijynx too, and a pointless Digital Copy of the film provided on a separate disc.

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