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What if Citibank's agenda was more sinister than mailing credit card advertisements? How would you feel if Bank of America assassinated people you loved instead of inviting them to open a new checking account? And what would life be like if Wells Fargo was actually more invested in illicit weaponry than safeguarding your investments?
The International proffers a sleek, paranoid vision of just such a world. It's a world where amoral international bankers covertly control who gets advanced weapons and who doesn't. Who overthrows governments and who doesn't. Whose missiles work and whose don't. It's a world in which hit men, bullet holes and dead bodies rack up like compound interest.
All, apparently, without anyone being the wiser.
But dogged Interpol agent Louis Salinger knows things aren't as they seem. For years he's labored to expose one corrupt institution he's convinced is at the center of it all: the International Bank of Business and Credit.
Salinger's obsession has gobbled up all of his physical and mental energy, leaving little time for such niceties as sleeping or shaving ... or showering, for that matter. When a colleague dies suspiciously in Berlin after meeting with a potential IBBC whistle-blower, it reinforces Salinger's resolve to untangle the bank's web of lies. Helping him sleuth out the details related to the ongoing investigation is New York assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman. Together they cling to tantalizing shreds of evidence, jetting from Berlin to Milan, from New York to Istanbul to Luxembourg in search of the truth.
All Salinger and Eleanor have to build upon, however, are wild, unsubstantiated theories. Meanwhile, the mighty IBBC seems untouchable. The shadowy company, led by the icy Jonas Skarssen, excels in corrupting evidence or simply killing anyone who threatens its global enterprise of arms trading, influence peddling and general evilness.
Just as it seems the evidence trail is growing cold, Salinger's tenacity yields a clue regarding the identity of IBBC's go-to assassin. And if they can find him, they can take down the bank—if they're not taken out first.
[Note: The following sections include spoilers.]
A deep drive for justice and accountability compels both Salinger and Eleanor. Even when higher-ups dismiss their quest for the truth regarding IBBC, the intrepid pair presses on. As the stakes get higher, it becomes apparent that Salinger won't be able to bring IBBC to justice legally. Because he cares about Eleanor's safety, he encourages his friend to walk away from the investigation instead of partnering with him in his vigilante "solution."
Part of the plot turns on the capture and interrogation of IBBC's chief security officer, an elderly man named Wilhelm Wexler. It's clear from Wexler's conversation with Salinger that he's weary of the role he's played in IBBC's nefarious activities, and that he wants to make amends on some level. That conversation is as philosophical as it is informative, as the former East German security officer tells Salinger that people cannot control the circumstances life throws at them, that a person's ultimate destiny may not be what he imagined it to be. Wexler is also philosophical about death, and he wants his own "finale" to have more meaning than simply helping a bad man maintain his grip on power.
It's not positive, per se, but Skarssen talks about the control that loaning money to a leader or a movement gives him. He rightly says that those who are in debt are slaves to their debtors.
Several scenes take place in Istanbul, where we see elaborate mosques and hear the prayers of Muslims over a loudspeaker in the background. Skarssen suggests sending a letter of "prayers and condolences" to the family of a man he's just had assassinated.
Eleanor jokingly asks Salinger if he's had sex recently. Museum pieces include nude statues and paintings. One of Skarssen's assistants shows some cleavage. Twice we see a middle-aged male witness in a bathrobe and boxer shorts.
The first half of the film is as much investigative procedural as it is violent action thriller. We watch a man clutch his chest (and vomit) as he has a heart attack and dies. Salinger gets sideswiped by a bus, with its mirror hitting his ear. We see a photo of a wrecked car.
Then the violence picks up dramatically with the execution of an Italian defense contractor. (We see him fall from a distance after a sniper's bullet kills him, then watch as blood pools under his body). A corrupt Italian police officer guns down the shooter, who convulses on the floor until the officer delivers the point-blank coup de grace. Another man is also shot in the head later on.
Salinger and two New York City policemen pursue an assassin into the Guggenheim Museum. Before they can take him into custody, a posse of perhaps 10 or so other assassins opens fire, sparking a lengthy firefight that claims the lives of eight or nine men. One of these victims is shot in the throat, and blood pulses from the wound as Salinger tries in vain to staunch its flow. Later, Salinger watches helplessly as blood flows from gunshot holes in another man's abdomen.
The Interpol agent himself takes a bullet to his ear, and he forces his thumb into an attackers' shoulder wound during a short melee. Another victim plunges off a balcony and hits a railing several stories below. Two others are incapacitated when an elaborate, glass-paneled ceiling display falls on them after Salinger shoots it.
A morgue scene displays bodies covered by sheets, one of which is Salinger's poisoned colleague. Eleanor gets hit by a car and thrown onto its hood, but suffers only minor injuries. (We see her bare, bruised shoulder at one point). Salinger mistakes a female passerby for an assassin and shoves her forcibly against a door.
In the climactic scene, Salinger confronts Skarssen in Istanbul. The corrupt banker tries to talk Salinger out of killing him, saying that his blood lust won't satisfy him or solve the world's injustice. Salinger wavers somewhat, but he does shoot and wound Skarssen. Somewhat unexpectedly, an agent from an Italian defense firm shows up and finishes him off. The man thanks Salinger as he walks away.
Crude or Profane Language
The s-word and f-word are each used about 10 times. God's and Jesus' names are taken in vain a handful of times. Half-a-dozen other vulgarities include "douche bag," "b--ch," "b--tard," "h---" and "a--."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Salinger's colleague and the would-be informant smoke cigarettes. One scene briefly places Salinger and Eleanor in a bar. Police obliquely attribute a witness's paranoia to drugs. ("He's pinned out of his mind," one of them says.)
Other Negative Elements
Salinger manipulatively deceives a witness in an attempt to get information out of him. Inscrutable weapons deals involve the IBBC playing both sides of the fence as it sells Chinese missiles to Israel, Iran and Syria. We also learn that the bank works with Hezbollah, Colombian drug runners and a would-be African usurper in Liberia. Russia and the CIA are clients as well. Skarssen arrogantly hopes to control the flow of both weapons and money to most of the international market. It's implied that his bribes have bought officials in virtually every government in the world, and that he and his bank are untouchable because of it.
Banking is not really about money, according to IBBC. It's about control. Control of governments. Of terrorists. Of rebels. Of police departments. Of anyone who needs cash to finance violence. Jonas Skarssen and his cronies glory in the power to shape world events, to be the final arbiters of conflict, to control those who are enslaved to IBBC because of their debt.
It's an attitude that makes Louis Salinger sick, an above-the-law mindset that drives the Interpol agent to bring Skarssen and Co. to justice. There's just one problem. And it's a big one: Skarssen can't be brought to justice because he owns the justice system.
As he interrogates Wexler, Salinger begrudgingly succumbs to Wexler's belief that IBBC can't be toppled by working within the system, but only through action outside the law. And once Salinger begins to believe the law is no longer on his side, he sets it aside. He sacrifices his ideal of legal integrity, exchanging it for the momentary satisfaction of revenge.
So it would seem that The International's message is clear: Forfeiting righteous principles for the greater good is ... good. And the desired greater good in this case is a world without the IBBC. In other words, the end justifies the means.
But then, maybe it's not so clear after all. Salinger gets his revenge and takes down the big baddie. But not much seems to change as a result of his efforts. The IBBC resurges. Third World dictators get more weapons. Skarssen may be dead, but his company—and his views on the world—still rule. There are, apparently, no shortage of crooked bankers waiting in the wings to take over his dirty dealings.
So maybe what The International really wants us to digest is the idea that no amount of good—no matter how it's executed—can change the course of corruption.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Clive Owen as Louis Salinger; Naomi Watts as Eleanor Whitman; Armin Mueller-Stahl as Wilhelm Wexler; Ulrich Thomsen as Jonas Skarssen; Brian O'Byrne as The Consultant
Tom Tykwer ( )