It's a plot that sounds like it was 'ripped from the headlines:' a corrupt global financial institution is the villain in a tense new thriller from German-born director Tom Tykwer co-starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Here's a look at The International.
Salinger, played by Clive Owen, is a police detective on the trail of an increasingly deadly crime with an unlikely prime suspect. The former Scotland Yard detective, now an agent for the international police cooperative Interpol, has been traveling the world for years tracking secret activities by the IBBC - nicknamed "The International." Now he has learned the bank is selling weapons to insurgencies.
Owen says The International is accidentally relevant: the current global financial crisis became news long after production was finished on the film. However, he adds that facts of earlier real-life cases helped him understand his character's determination to stop The International.
"There was a lot of research material that came with the script: for instance, articles from newspapers about situations where banks had proven to be corrupt," Owen explains. "It was a very well researched film. The thing that attracted me to it was it felt like those 1970's paranoid political thrillers. It was intelligent, well researched [and] based in fact; but at the same time it was also very obviously a very big international exciting thriller. It was marrying the two together.
"I think it's amazing how timely it has become because we finished a year ago [and] they were working on the script for nearly two years prior to that, so they were using all of that research then," adds Owen. "It has been since we locked that picture off, what has happened with banks around the world. The film ultimately does ask questions. Yes, it's a big entertaining thriller, but it does ask questions and opens up doors to question whether banks use peoples' money appropriately and whether they are completely sound institutions; and that's what everybody is doing right now with everything that has gone on in the last year."
"The idea was to have Clive's character, Salinger, be this kind of fly caught in this perfect spider web of a system that seemingly is very accurate and clear, but in fact is absolutely un-transparent and secretive," explains director Tom Tykwer says he tried to take The International beyond the political thriller or action genres.
"What I loved about the concept of The International is you have a guy who is driven by a problem that is not his personal, private problem, but is universally relevant," Owen says. "He is really upset about something that we are all upset about and that is meaningful to all of us. That somehow gave his activities more gravitas."
There is, however, plenty of action as Salinger and American prosecutor Eleanor Whitman, played by Naomi Watts, chase the conspiracy from the plazas of Milan to rooftops of Turkey and New York's towering skyscrapers. Tykwer picked one Manhattan landmark, the Guggenheim art museum, as the setting for a spectacular shoot-out.
"The Guggenheim survives the sequence. It's just the art that gets destroyed," Tykwer says.
No priceless paintings were harmed in the making of the film; an exact replica of the interior with its distinctive ramp design around an open atrium was created on a Berlin soundstage; but co-star Owen believes the 'movie magic' is utterly convincing.
"I think the Guggenheim sequence is probably one of the most exquisitely realized sequences on film that I've ever been involved in," Owen says. "It was always a huge scene within the movie and Tom's preparation was extraordinary in terms of months before we even started shooting he and I walked through the Guggenheim and he had the whole thing planned out. I remember when we did the first full rehearsal with all the stunt guys you felt that it was going to be really extraordinary sequence.
The international cast of The International also features German actor Armin Meuller-Stahl; Denmark's Ulrich Thomsen and Irish-born Brian O'Byrne. The script is by first-time screenwriter Eric Warren Singer.