Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have some new additions to your Netflix queue. Or someone with whom you can angrily disagree.
There will always be a special place in my heart for shoot-outs. As a teenager, a good shoot-out would satiate my blood lust better than any video game. Sometime my response is so visceral that I start giggling – I appreciate when things get so intense, and I no longer remember that I’m watching a movie. The International, the new Clive Owen movie, has one of the better shoot-outs in recent memory. Yes, it made me giggle, but even when the bullets weren’t flying, the movie maintained a high level of suspense.
Louis Salinger (Owen), an INTERPOL agent, has been following the world’s biggest bank for years. Every time he gets close to flipping someone on the inside, that person mysteriously ends up dead or disappears. With the help of a New York District Attorney (Naomi Watts), he gets close to an Italian investor with political aspirations. The investor, no doubt a substitute for Berlusconi, informs Salinger that the bank finances international warfare as a means of collecting debt. Of course, shortly after this conversation, the politician is assassinated. This is when the movie kicks into high gear, and becomes an international police procedural. Salinger follows leads around the world, and becomes increasingly convinced that an institution so big cannot be fought by conventional means. He realizes that he must go out of the system.
Like most thrillers, there’s nothing particularly original here. The bank executives are banally evil. Salinger and the other pursuers are angry and driven. The details are what make a movie like this one work. Tom Tykwer, director of movies like Run Lola Run and Perfume, has a canny visual style. On one level, the movie functions as architecture porn, and Tkywer makes the austere beauty of modern buildings a metaphor for the coldly efficient bank. There are no flourishes, but the machinations of the plot unfold logically. The complex plot never panders to the viewer. While the screenplay has several poorly developed characters (Watts’ character in particular), there are some who speak with world-weary eloquence. At one point, a consultant for the bank casually observes that, “The only difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.” And of course, Clive Owen can do no wrong. He makes Salinger into an intense brooding man, one who learns the hard way that cynicism is his only guiding force. He’s no action hero, and even when wielding automatic weapons, Owen makes him believable.
The International is not the most memorable movie. It has low ambitions, and accomplishes them well. Those who expect similarity to The Bourne Identity will be disappointed. This a movie that requires attention, and while there are thrilling moments, it is not filled with wall-to-wall action. But man, what a killer shoot-out. It takes place in the Guggenheim museum, and if you’re familiar with its architecture, you’ll wonder why it took so long for an action sequence to take place there. The way it unfolds makes a certain sense, and the unlikely alliances formed are satisfying. Not since Children of Men, an earlier Clive Owen movie, has an action sequences been so creative. Immediately after Academy Awards season, Hollywood tends to offer only poor choices. Here’s a pleasantly entertaining alternative.
Here are three other reasons why my mancrush on Clive Owen is absolutely justified:
Croupier. For many, the movie served as an introduction to Owen, whose brooding eyes and careful language mesmerize the viewer. And long before Dexter, this Mike Hodges movie introduced me to the concept of the self-deluding narrator. Owen plays Jack Manfred, a writer who is offered a job as a blackjack dealer. He watches the punters with a careful eye, and his narration confirms that he knows the complex interactions of the blackjack table. Because he handles cards with uncommon dexterity and goes through great pains to note he doesn’t gamble, his character is all the more intriguing. Soon he finds himself wrapped up in a plot to rob the casino, and discovers that others have been manipulating him all along. The movie functions better as a character study than as a thriller. Jack is an erudite misanthrope – it’s a delight to hear him describe his contempt for those who surround him. Like Scorsese’s Casino, the movie functions almost as a documentary of how gamblers systematically lose their money.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Also directed by Hodges, this noir requires an attentive eye. Owen plays Will Graham, a former criminal who lives a quiet life as a laborer. When news arrives that his brother was murdered, Graham springs into action, scouring the streets of London for the killer. There’s a brief, electric scene when in an unkempt Owen transforms into the clean-shaven, well-groomed man we’ve come to love. As with other cockney gangster movies, the mere return of Graham strikes fear in those who know him well. Those who doubt Graham’s ability, like Boad (Malcolm McDowell), pay a steep price. Characters talk in short-hand, as if they know each other too well, and do not telegraph plot developments. Without the proper mindset, the movie will be too impenetrable for most viewers. If you’re patient and accept that Hodges knows what he’s doing, you’ll be rewarded with a gritty story about hardened man. Hell, even if you’re confused, there’s one unmistakably badass scene in which Owen shows us precisely who Graham is.
Closer. I had the pleasure of seeing this fantastic movie with an unsuspecting audience. Those who expected a romantic comedy (“Oh, don’t you just love Julia Roberts?”) responded with hisses and jeers. There are funny moments, but Closer is anything but a comedy. It tells the story of two men and two women, varying in age, who use sex as a weapon. No character is particularly likable. I found Dan (Jude Law) especially awful – he engages in nasty behavior, and responds like a wimpy child when his comeuppance finally arrives. In spite of his cruel behavior and brutal dialog, I found a certain sympathy for Owen’s character, Larry the Doctor*. He arguably says the harshest things, the kind of things that no one can take back, yet he always stays true to himself. He doesn’t kid himself – he knows he’s in the middle of a nasty game, and appreciates the emotional honesty of brutal insult. Moreover, Larry cannot hide how hurt he feels. I’ve heard Closer described as an anti-date movie. I couldn’t disagree more – if you’re in a happy relationship, you’ll surely have a greater appreciation of how dissimilar you are from the characters in this movie. In lieu of a mere picture, I’ve posted the entirety of Owen’s break-up scene with Roberts. Enjoy!
* During the stage production of Closer, Owen played Jude Law’s character.
That’s it for this week’s “Another Movie Guy?”! Tune in next week when I teach French brats.