This movie is the epitome of its genre: the conspiracy thriller. Set in Berlin, Milan, and New York City, the film follows the trek of Salinger and Whitman (Clive Owen and Naomi Watts), Interpol agents whom look into the increasingly murky dealings of one International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC). As they soon discover, their investigation will lead into an environment of uncertainty, danger, and ambiguity. A path leading directly into a great and harrowing story worthy of any lover of dramatic film.
The Precipice Of Morality and Power
At the heart of the story is the character of Salinger. He is an Interpol agent who is uncompromising, specifically in his pursuit of the IBBC. When all other agents turn aside and decide it isn't worth it, Salinger pushes on, even when he knows full well that he risks his own life in doing so.
For merely being an Interpol agent is no protection in a situation such as this. While I won't say if the IBBC is guilty of his accusations or not, it is clear that, by prising open the lid of Pandora's box, Salinger is truly pushing his luck. Yet, despite this imminent sense of worry that you get as he pushes onward, you can't help but want him to go just a bit further. The web is tangled and dark, and discerning the safe paths from the traps becomes a more tenuous prospect as Salinger goes further into the rabbit hole.
What really made me interested in Salinger's character, though, is the theme that movie pushes as time goes on, and how it affects him. Unlike any of his fellow agents, Salinger wants to bring the IBBC to the ground; he wants to do the right thing no matter the danger. However, when faced with the complexities and murkiness of international law, he is more inclined to try and sidestep legalities than deal with them one by one. Consequently, Salinger (and those who work with him) are at constant risk of becoming something akin to that which they seek to destroy. As one man said, "When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back into you." This movie depicts this path of skirting the edge of darkness; tip-toeing on the precipice between morality and power.
Consequently, watching Salinger and Whitman's progression in character, along with their reactions to events terrible and surreal, becomes one of the many draws of the film. I can't name many movies that manage to depict such a Heart of Darkness feeling so aptly. The intermixing of character study, dark investigations, and cinematic filming combine to create one heck of a good conspiracy thriller, enthralling and subtly disquieting.
The Tangled Webs of International Law
Part of what makes the hunt for truth so difficult in The International comes from the IBBC's status as an international corporation. For those not in the know, when a corporation extends its business into many different nations, it becomes very difficult to keep track of their actions. Detective work becomes a nightmare as one has to stop constantly to ask permissions from national governments, permissions that must be acquired separately for everything from phone tapping and document searching to warrant acquisition and interrogations. Things become even more complicated if you actually want to take the criminal to your own nation for justice.
Needless to say, the status of international law is a major point within The International. Nations have never been willing to give away sovereignty to international institutions, hence the United Nations' and Interpol's relative powerlessness when it comes to investigating possible crimes across multiple borders. And this topical focus lends The International much of its mood of uncertainty, ambiguity, and danger. International law makes the IBBC almost impregnable to oversight and, given that they are a bank with tons of money, they also have the liquidity they need to potentially sidetrack any criminal investigation.
Another topic of importance touched on in the film is that of weapons manufacturing and its tenuous grip on legality. Given the cobwebs of international law, this is another business that is often able to slip under the radar; those that want the weapons have no reason to help those investigating, and those who distribute them do not want to lose business or reputation by being brought to light. The movie also delves into the financial opportunities of political destabilization for such manufacturers; if a weapons distributor wants to insure steady business, then isn't it in their best interest to work towards the escalation of conflicts? As also dwelled upon in the movie, Lord of War, it is conceivable that this has been a contributing factor with regard to the past century of constant warring in the Middle East and Africa.
This movie was, in my opinion, near-perfect in its depiction of and mood-setting for a conspiracy thriller. The only movie I could think of that comes close to a similar feel is Casino Royale. The International successfully shows us the shadows and possibilities of corporational conspiracy, and how the weblike and convoluted nature of international law can sometimes make it impossible to stay within the law if one wants to out a criminal organization spanning across nations.
The acting was well done; the characters interesting, convincingly portrayed, and occasionally heart-rending. Salinger's quest and its tenuous legal nature are compelling, and reminiscent of choices that people can face in real life; choices between moral purity and the often easier compromises in order to accomplish what has to be done.
However, on the negative side, it was occasionally hard to follow precisely what was going on. To be fair, this is partially a consequence of the topic itself; international law and how it affects multinational corporations is confusing. But I feel like it could have been done a bit better. Overall, though, the movie was definitely a good one, and deserves watching if the genre and subject matter appeal to you. It is a great drama/action that also makes you think. And I love it when those combinations click.