Reviews by Tony Sheppard
Directed by Tom Tykwer
"The International" is getting mixed reviews from the entertainment press, with some writers apparently bothered by what they perceive to be an unrealistic plot. I find this perspective interesting as it makes me wonder which films of this type they're watching that have realistic plots. I feel as though I liked "The International" for some of the same reasons that others disliked it – I actually liked the aspects that seemed more realistic than many films I watch.
Clive Owen plays an Interpol agent with a slightly murky past (film characters never seem to have crystal clear and morally uncompromised pasts). He's been following developments at a huge bank for several years, and is convinced that they are guilty of a whole host of wrongdoing that he can't quite manage to pin on them. As the bodies fall around him, he's left to prove his case or, as seems likely, die trying.
The plot also involves international arms deals and as is explained at one point when somebody questions why the bank would be in the arms business, they aren't really, they are in the debt business. The means toward that indebtedness don't really matter, but the point is made that banks make money and are in control when people owe them money. The timing of the storyline is either ironic or perfect given the credit crisis we're currently facing, and what caused it. And while it may be that Citibank isn't running around killing people on multiple continents, the fictional bank in the movie is described as being the bank of choice for organized crime and terrorism – so perhaps murder is more of a positive credibility factor in their client relations.
I enjoyed some of the character traits: Owen's character, Louis Salinger, is a rumpled cross between Columbo and Jack Ryan. He's physically capable when he needs to be, but he's also more analytical, and unlike the Bond's of the world, when he travels from country to country he arrives looking like he slept in his clothes, if he slept at all, and not like he's on his way to a GQ cover shoot. Similarly, there's an assassin (Bryan F. O'Byrne) in "The International" who blends into his surroundings by being exceptionally unexceptional and, rather than being some screenwriter's example of physical elitism and perfection, he actually has a minor disability. Other strong performances come from Naomi Watts as a DA who is following the US portion of the investigation, and Armin Mueller-Stahl as the bank's aging security expert.
While not as explosively action oriented as some of the competition, "The International" does have one of the best set piece shoot out scenes of recent years, with an extraordinary sequence set inside New York's Guggenheim Museum. It's just guys with guns – nobody leaps through the air with wire-enhance martial arts or relies on some ridiculous electronic gadgetry – and they actually pick up and use the dropped guns. The people seem troubled, short on sleep, complicated, and therefore more real than so many action film characters. It felt to me like Bond or Bourne for grownups – it's not overly flashy or unrealistically suave and sophisticated, it's gritty and dirty and morally grey. I may be fighting the tide on this one, but I enjoyed the movie on multiple levels, not as much as Tykwer's amazing "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" (2006), but as much as anything released so far in 2009.
(Malcolm Maclachlan's side note: Naomi Watts' gorgeous, leggy blond DA Eleanor Whitman is actually based on longtime Manhattan prosecutor John Moscow, who broke the BCCI banking fraud case in 1993. Google his picture to see the difference.)
Directed by Will Gluck
"Fired Up" is the less than complicated story of two high school football stars who skip football camp and go to cheerleader camp instead because of the high girl:guy ratio and the subsequent likelihood of numerous sexual conquests. And much hilarity ensues.
Realistically, two things are surprising about this movie. The first being that any hilarity ensues – but it does manage to squeeze out some genuine laughs in the "Porky's"/"American Pie" tradition. The second is the casting – most of the high school students are played by actors who are too old to play college students. It's the perfect PG-13 opportunity for young teenagers to watch a 24 year old female high school student being treated abusively by her 30 year old college freshman boyfriend in front of her 28 and 31 year old over-sexed male high school student team-mates while sexual orientations are exploited for laughs. It's more leer camp than cheer camp. (Opens Feb 20)
Directed by Claude Miller
A young boy growing up in post-WWII France embellishes his family life with an imaginary brother and fantasizes about his parents' history. That is, until a close family friend fills him in on the real details, and the multiple losses suffered during the Nazi occupation of France. The film is told in a non-linear style, with portions of the story from different time periods, including interactions between family members in the present. But the heart of the story lies in the back story, and the tragic events that caused those family members to be a family in the first place.
Based on a true story, the award-winning "Un Secret" debuted in Sacramento at the 2008 Sacramento French Film Festival. This year's festival dates are June 19th-June 28th and more details can be found at sacramentofrenchfilmfestival.org (A Secret opens Feb 20)