?International? is a pleasant surprise

By By Trevor Hale, Staff Writer

By Trevor Hale, Staff Writer

Late winter is a dreadful time for the movie business. The big, dumb, fun summer blockbusters are still months away and all the quality films are usually trotted out before Christmas. January, February and most of March are the months generally used8212;for lack of a better term8212;as a dumping ground. Any movie that’s not completed and ready for release by mid-October is held back unless it’s got serious award potential. Ever notice how all the good movies are released late in the year? That’s because award voters tend to have a very short memory and will stack their votes in favor of the movies that have just come out.

For a small market such as Salt Lake City, early January is still a good time because it gets a few holdovers from the holiday rush. But once those are done, it’s usually bleak.

“The International,” a new thriller starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, was released with little fanfare but was a very pleasant surprise. The movie doesn’t take any chances and sticks close to the rule book, but it’s a tight, well-executed story that delivers an exciting two hours of entertainment.

Watch the first 5 minutes of The International:

Louis Salinger (Owen) is an agent of INTERPOL on the trail of the International Bank of Business and Credit8212;otherwise known as the IBBC. He and a Manhattan district attorney, Eleanor Whitman (Watts), attempt to hold the IBBC accountable for a large number of criminal business transactions. The company is on the verge of a massive weapons deal to fund terrorists and it’s up to Salinger and Whitman to stop them. However, the IBBC has a few tricks up its own sleeve and won’t let anyone get in its way.

A giant corporation8212;like the IBBC8212;as the villain is a bit of a stretch in today’s world but that aspect is merely a backdrop for adventure and intrigue. Owen is and always has been a fantastic actor and it’s a pleasure to watch him on screen. He’s capable of holding the full attention of every audience he’s put in front of, and makes you believe everything he’s doing is right8212;even when it might not be. He was on the short list of actors in talks to replace Pierce Brosnan for the role of James Bond, but lost out to Daniel Craig. That’s probably a good thing, as it freed up Owen’s schedule for other projects8212;such as the long-rumored “Sin City 2.”

“The International” could fit right alongside “Casino Royale” or “Quantum of Solace” in terms of action and intrigue, and Owen is always front and center of everything going on.

Although the script by newcomer Eric Singer plays out as though he’s working from a “Thriller Genre 101” cheat sheet, he packs it full on all accounts. The exotic locations never stop coming as Salinger and Whitman travel from Berlin to New York to Luxembourg to Istanbul without skipping a beat. There’s political intrigue, assassinations, foot chases, gunfights and everything else you’d expect from a movie like this. The German director, Tom Tykwer, whose last film was the 2006 thriller “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” makes a very smooth transition to big-budget action pictures. He plays it safe most of the time, never getting too technical or revealing any more than he has to, but with a movie like this, that’s expected and acceptable.

One aspect that tends to bog down any good movie is the addition of a forced love affair between the two main characters, and fortunately Tykwer and Singer know this and manage to avoid it. Whitman is married and Salinger is a loner, and as well as they get along and care about each other, their relationship is strictly business. It is possible for an action movie to have male and female characters who aren’t constantly sleeping around and bedding anyone that comes by, and this is a perfect example.

It’s rare that a film comes along and doesn’t try to do anything more than it needs to do or is capable of to still entertain. “The International” has double-crosses, globe-spanning adventure, quests for redemption, revenge and one hell of an entertaining gun battle in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. It runs a bit long toward the end, but it’s still an entertaining piece of filmmaking. It’s the perfect kind of movie to break the mediocrity in the middle of a dreary winter.

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