Deep into the labyrinthine plot of "The International," at just about the point where I was ready to rate this as a well-made but not particularly memorable thriller, there is an extended shootout sequence that had me chuckling----not because it's the least bit funny, but because it was such a virtuoso piece of filmmaking that I wanted to stand and cheer.
And I never stand and cheer at the movies, because that would make me a lunatic.
As he's demonstrated in films such as "Sin City," "Shoot 'em Up" and "Children of Men," nobody plays I-haven't-slept-for-two-days like Clive Owen. He's in perpetual world-weary mode here as Louis Salinger, an Interpol agent in dogged pursuit of international bankers who are financing arms races in ways so complicated it would give Bernie Madoff a headache. When Salinger witnesses the murder of a colleague who was getting too close to the truth, the quest becomes personal and nearly suicidal.
Naomi Watts has an oddly passive role as a Manhattan district attorney who teams up with Salinger from time to time, but disappears from the action for no discernible reason. Faring much better are Armin Mueller-Stahl as a German communist who long ago ransomed his own ideals in exchange for survival. And familiar character actor Brian F. O'Byrne is outstanding as one of the most effective and quirky assassins in recent film history.
Which brings us to that shootout. Not to give too much away, but a number of the film's central characters wind up at New York's Guggenheim Museum, where shots ring out for about 10 minutes in one of the best extended pieces of its kind since Michael Mann's "Heat." (The scene was actually shot on a giant soundstage in Berlin.)
Directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run, Lola, Run") and shot in such exotic and visually arresting locales as Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, "The International" reminds me of the great and greatly cynical thrillers of the 1970s such as "The Parallax View."
And there's something almost quaint about a plot that has bankers meeting in secret place as they finance wars, instead of letting down their core customers with bad business decisions.