Sunday, August 2, 2009

International Man

We just watched a great accidental double-bill: Inside Man and The International.

Inside Man is Spike Lee doing a heist film more-or-less free of racial politics. It starts with a sweet montage of New York bank architecture, and proceeds to a bank robbery hostage situation. The robbers are all wearing jumpsuits with hoods, sunglasses and scarves across their faces, and they soon have all of the hostages dressed the same way.

Meanwhile, the police have arrived, headed by Denzel Washington, bucking for promotion, but held back by some missing money from a recent bust. He plays this role perfectly, a combination John Shaft/Mr. Tibbs. The robbers are really up against something.

But Washington doesn't have only the robbers to worry about. The bank's director has brought in Jodie Foster, a high-level fixer, to make sure a secret doesn't get out. While Washington plays a well-established type, Foster's is something new to me - she is sharp, competent and utterly amoral. She not a bitch because that doesn't pay the bills. But never get in her way.

As I say, there isn't much racial politics here, but lots of sweet slices of NY life. The hostages have the accents, the attitudes and the diverse backgrounds of that great city. The plot is twisty and turny, although not quite as clever as I expected. The style is pretty much straight, with the exception of a few flash-forwards/flash-alternate-futures, camera tricks and a stylized shots of the bank vault.

Oh yes, and the main robber was Clive Owen.

In The International, Clive Owen is the good guy, and the bank is the villain. Owen is an Interpol agent investigating the International Bank of Commerce and Credit for money laundering, weapons dealing, skullduggery and mopery with intent to dope. Another agent meeting with an insider is murdered silently in a Berlin train station right in front of Owen's eyes. In fact, anyone who gets a lead winds up dead, sometimes with their entire family. Which will be too bad if they notice Owen's boss, young wife and mother Naomi Watts.

Aside from Clive Owen and banks, this movie shares a couple of points with Inside Man: Like Washington, Owen has a scandal in his past, the higher-ups may be corrupted, and the identities of the bad guys are hidden behind layers of masks and indirection. Also, both movies are smart, tricky, make you think and keep you guessing.

Also, in The International, they shoot up the Guggenheim Museum. The part it was meant to play.

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