The International is, by no means, a great movie, but it is a good enough movie and perhaps its redeeming moment occurs in the last 30 min or so.  When your stay home sick from work, feeling completely unproductive, this a great movie to watch. 

The plot is simple enough.  An ex-national police officer, now part of INTERPOL, goes after one of the world’s largest banks.  He and an American colleague find trails of death, vast corruption, arms sales, etc. and yet they can never quite bring the bank to justice.  At the last moment when they appear to be on the brink the bank extends its influence and undermines everything.  The plot, as scary and true as it is, tells us that Banks are now in the business of creating debt and controlling all through controlling their debt.  The movie is also based on the true events of the Pakistani Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal.

Once they capture one of the bank’s main consultants, Wexler, who, interestingly enough, is chiefly characterized by being an ex-communist secret police officer, Clive Owen’s character has his epiphany.  He asks Wexler how is it that one who fought so hard for the communist cause is now on the side of thing he hated so much; namely, the main perpetrators of global capitalism.  Wexler reply is entirely too simple and therefore disappointing; much more could have been added here, but he simply alludes to selling out and now is extremely depressed with his life.  Owen’s character convinces him that maybe a man finds his destiny on the road that he took to avoid it and so gets Wexler to “turn.”  Owen’s epiphany occurs when Wexler confronts him with the awful truth: there is no justice, at least the justice Owen is seeking, within the confines of the system.  Wexler tells him that a categorical mistake is occurring; he simply cannot expect justice to be delivered when that very justice would destroy the system.  The bank will never be brought down by the system because the system depends on the bank’s illegal acts.  Once Owen’s own “turn” occurs, he realizes that he will have to go outside the law and this means that there will be collateral violence, as Wexler explains. 

The very context of this scene is moving.  Owen descends to a basement, outside the context of the law as he’s gone into hiding.  He enters a dark room, reminiscent of an extraordinary rendition or clandestine operation room, while his last remaining tie to the ‘normal’ rule of law, Naomi Watts, can only observe through a tiny hole.  I wonder if she represents us as the audience at this very moment.  If we are passionate about justice, coming to full truth about ourselves, might we then realize how we are implicated in the violence of the system?  Can we bear to stand in that room with Owen’s character?  Or can we only look through a tiny window and perceive rather than contribute to its unraveling?

Owen leaves the room and tells Watt’s character that she must leave.  The stakes are too high for her to remain involved and she must break all ties with him, as the bank will surely come after her and her family.  We realize here that Owen’s character has come to the full realization once he’s made his decent back into the cave the only way to beat the system is to forever go outside its boundaries.

The plot continues and we learn that Owen and Wexler have gone in together to bring down the bank.  Wexler is killed by a mysterious assassin, yet he seems to anticipate his death – again betraying the sense that to go outside the system is to face inexorable death. 

During the final scene Owen and the banks principal, Skarssen, face off.  Owen with gun in hand tells Skarssen he wants justice, to which Skarssen replies that he doesn’t have the authority to arrest him.  Owen replies that he’s not here to arrest him.  Skarssen quickly reminds Owen that if he kills him, ten more people will be there to take his place and nothing will be accomplished.  Suddenly, a shot rings out behind Owen and Skarssen falls.  We soon learn that the same character that went after Wexler came after Skarssen as retribution for the assassination plot staged by the bank.

I don’t know what to make of this scene. On the one hand, Owen is spared of the violence (as he’s not the one who killed Skarssen) and there might be something to this.  On the other, nothing changes as is made clear by the credits that depict newspaper headlines on how the bank starts all over again and Watt’s character continues to go after corruption charges.

So what is the movie trying to say?  Does the cycle simply continue and at the end of the day nothing changes?  To answer this question we need to return to Wexler and the basement scene.  Wexler lived within the extreme of both worlds – secret police and the realpolitik of global finance; either death squads or selling out; no comfortable mean existed for him.  Only when he faced his death and therefore his destiny could he follow through with the cause and so find redemption.  But this is not a simple redemption story, as if he could one day live comfortably, for that would be to revitalize the system all over again.  The International, despite its shortcomings, is a film about death, symbolic or otherwise.  We must die to ourselves and to the system in order to truly live in another world and according to other standards of justice.  The early Christians, drawing on their Jewish roots, understood as apocalyptic.  

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