05 September 2019 4841 Views

#TBT The International (2009). Clive Owen and Naomi Watts Star in this Underrated and Ever Relevant Thriller.

by James Murphy

It’s Like an Unofficial James Bond Film. Starring Clive and Naomi.

THE INTERNATIONAL is This Week’s Throwback Thursday Movie!

Think back to 2009. The world had been shaken (and stirred) by a financial crisis, the likes of which had not been seen since the Great Depression. This was the nuclear version of recession: MULTIPLE economic implosions, unleashed, at once, by surprise, worldwide. So imagine how timely it was to have a thrilling movie that had Bankers as the baddies, same way Constant Gardener took on big-pharma via John le Carré espionage?

This is it: High finance meets Arms trading, with any investigation scuppered by mysterious murders or unexplained deaths. Cue Clive Owen to the rescue! 

I like to think of THE INTERNATIONAL as a kind of unofficial 007 film. Yes, that’s right. Like one of those ‘else-world’ / alternative universe cuts they do for comic book universe movies. Non canonical yet significant. It feels like a third Timothy Dalton era picture and a kind of lost Daniel Craig episode.

Remember that, in 2009, Bond had just been rebooted. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace had performed well and the wheels were turning on Daniel’s third.


And yet we had to wait until 2012 for SKYFALL. Much as I love that movie and I really do LOVE it in every way? The wait for it was LONG. As though we were deprived of 007 at peak power, simply because of financial politics at MGM?  They missed the opportunity of pitting Bond against a worldwide menace that was nonetheless rooted in reality and then current fears. Sure, Silva (Javier Bardem) echoed some of the Assange/wiki-leak motifs but both that onscreen and real world counterpart are kinda small time in goal and vision.

Bond v a cabal of bankers would have been even more on the pulse and appealed to the fabric of the series, whereby an everyday threat is taken and explored / expanded to become more fantastical and fun, a la Hitchcock thrillers. THE INTERNATIONAL offers just that formula: with a powerful and corrupt Banking clan as a kind of SPECTRE like evil organisation.

Clive Owen never screen-tested for James Bond, let alone had any offer on the table for the part. The rumours were started and stoked by fans and publicity teams and Owen’s career did well from the association. He’s never denied benefiting from the speculation and was even good humoured enough to spoof the possibilities, via his ‘006’ cameo in The Pink Panther remake (2006).

Much of it came down to Clive simply having worn a Tux in Croupier and started playing action /spy/romantic roles (Bourne Identity; Beyond Borders). As far back as Chancer (1990/1) on British television, there had been some Bond like buzz around him. I suspect much of it is about a look.

Owen has a brief look of Connery merged with Dalton; but that is precisely what Barbara Broccoli was breaking AWAY from with the original hit of Casino Royale (2006).

You do not cast solely because an actor has a ‘look’ and indeed, nobody would have thought Daniel Craig ‘looked’ like a Bond (I did, told you so..but anyway..so did the Bond family: result = BEST BOND EVER!).

Did Clive miss out? Was there some secret audition / approach made? Nah. Besides, he did not want to talk about it. ‘I don’t want to talk about Bond‘, he said on the Jonathan Ross Show in 2004. Ross: what you do mean you don’t wanna talk? It’s a fucking talk show!

Notice, Clive stroked his ear as he spoke about the subject: awkward moment of imminent truth before Daniel was cast? We may never know.

In any event, we get glimpses of an Owen shaped 007 in THE INTERNATIONAL.  World weary, competent, rundown but balanced by humour, eccentricity, style, confidence and presence: you get it all here. There are some fascinating little character details on display and our lead actor here truly ‘sells’ them to us (look out for the basin of ice scene: brilliant visual storytelling). View it in context, alongside other pictures he made in this Bond related buzz phase (see also: Closer, King Arthur, Inside Man, Children of Men, Duplicity).

Owen is the grit amidst the glamour and sometimes, vice versa. An intriguing dynamic, fusing blue collar every-man credentials and conviction, to comfortably white collar lifestyle tropes and high stakes.

Just like James Bond. 😉

Charming chap. And I look forward to seeing him on stage in Night of the Iguana. I actually saw Clive in person years ago. I was around 8 or 9 years young; On the set of Close My Eyes. They were filming at a National Trust location and I was walking there with my beloved Mom.

Glimpsing Clive clearly caked in stage blood after what looked like a staged crash of sorts, I was quickly moved along. In part to shield me, I suspect, abut also to just preserve and finish the shot!

But Clive is not the sole selling point to THE INTERNATIONAL.


NAOMI WATTS is divine. There is a solid professional, though here non romantic chemistry with Owen, though they were reunited recently as Claudius and Gertrude in a movie take on Hamlet: Ophelia, starring Daisy Ridley, too. Naomi gives a selfless performance here. It’s very un-showy.

And yet, Naomi is a movie star, so still an inescapably charismatic screen presence here; consolidating further the idea of our 21st century equivalent to the Hitchcock blonde whilst remaining her own person and an actress of power, passion and precision. Her movements are studied, poised, yet she convinces still as field agent and official. Hence, one can see why the likes of David Lynch and Sean Penn have regarded Ms Watts as a creative muse, inspiring the best work in all her collaborators.

I think Naomi is adorable. Exquisite. Very talented girl!

Where was I? Oh yes. Back to the movie..sorry 😉

..The action is fantastic. Whilst the whole piece itself is slow, heavy, overlong (because of the subject matter and style), THAT action scene in the Guggenheim is one of the all time greats of the last decade.

The colour schemes, camera-work, editing: all PERFECT! There are fun foot-chases too and a tense moment that has our protagonists trapped in the middle of an assassination and the inevitably panicked fallout that follows in the surrounding crowds.

You FEEL immersed in the details; from the blinds and lighting in an Office to the aesthetic /atmospheric of locations throughout Europe. Rain and sunlight equally punctuate the pervading and yet pernicious threat of the evil conspiracy depicted as unravelling its own machinations as the hero and heroine investigate. A pulp novel like landscape, brought to real and textured life, onscreen, through strategic use of sight and sound.

That IS film-making!

Now, granted: any overdone strength verges on weakness. Fair enough.

And yes: there is some over-laboured exposition and didactic lecture via contrived dialogue, not helped by the fact that whilst Clive has a distinctive voice, it simply is not suited to delivering an explicit character motivation or potted financial history. He and the dialogue verge on danger of droning and drowning in drabness of details.

It’s also worth noting that, for all of the movie’s (then) super relevant villainy, the credit crunch /crash was ultimately abated, despite our fears of it ever recurring.

Indeed, this SHOULD be a flat out period piece, given that its closest counterpart in reality would be the collapse of BCCI in the early 90s (I remember it well and the precocious kid in me thought..’that’d make a great movie some day!’).

So the film sits awkwardly between pulp thriller and quasi-documentary, thereby blurring a sense of urgency or convincing motivations for both heroes and villains, alike, here. But hey, who knows what awaits us in this uncertain, post Brexit world? This movie might just have acquired yet more relevant meaning!

Quibbles aside, I am very fond of THE INTERNATIONAL. Recommended: to ALL fans of conspiracy plots, recent political /economic affairs, thrillers, James Bond, Clive Owen, globe trotting mystery and of course, Naomi Watts. A curate’s egg, for sure..but a VERY charming, relevant, compelling, substantial and enjoyable one. 


Available to rent /download and available on demand on Sky Movies 


James Murphy is busy investigating a high-ranking Banking conspiracy… top secret: TELL NOBODY! oh..Whoooopss..will stick to film reviews 😉




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