Directed by Tom Tykwer
Opening with one of those clandestine car meetings that can only end in someone dying, the film doesn’t waste any time introducing characters before getting right into the plot, as Interpol agent Louis Sallinger starts to investigate the death of his partner before his eyes. It doesn’t take long to suss out that it has something to do with the global bank IBBC, who is deeply involved with shady arms deals.
The way the film explores the inner workings of a corporate bank, especially the shadow cabinet making decisions behind-the-scenes, is what makes it so fascinating, and the timing of having a bank as the antagonist couldn’t be more perfect. Even so, the film maintains a slow and deliberate pace to set-up all the players and their relationships, much like Tony Gilroy did in “Michael Clayton.” That’s not to say there’s a ton of dialogue and exposition, but Tykwer allows things to unfold in way that creates far more tension and anticipation to when things explode.
The film is driven by a near-perfect screenplay by Eric Warren Singer, his sharp dialogue creating a tone that harks back to classic ’70s thrillers, though Tom Tykwer shoots and scores the film in a way that blends old and new. This is far more global film than “Michael Clayton” as it opens in Berlin, travels across Europe and even stops in the Middle East, as Salinger follows the money trail of those who would finance war. Few modern filmmakers would be able to pull off such a complex and all-encompassing film, but Tykwer does an excellent job, often blowing the viewer away with breathtaking establishing shots of each new location in a way that brings to mind what Paul Greengrass did in the last “Bourne” film.
Clive Owen is once again doing what he does best, playing Salinger as a damaged character who is completely out of his depth, driven by paranoia from the knowledge that the bank can get him at any turn. Owen’s performance harks back to his strongest roles in “Croupier” and “Children of Men,” though Salinger clearly has the experience and skills to deduce things from the smallest clues. By comparison, Naomi Watts is sorely underused in the role of a D.A., one whom gets far more involved in globe-trotting than someone in her position might ever have the opportunity. Watts has always been such a good actress but she really takes a backseat to Owen to the point where she’s almost unnecessary to the story at times. Thankfully, we don’t get the ubiquitous romance that would be a given in most studio movies whenever two good-looking actors are brought together.
Watts is briefly reunited with the always-great Armin Muehler Stahl from “Eastern Promises” playing a member of the bank’s board who they’re hoping to turn, while Bryan O’Byrne plays one of the film’s more fascinating characters, a “consultant” who the bank calls upon to clear up loose ends. These two are the standouts amongst a complex tapestry of characters who add a great deal authenticity to the story.
Eventually the trail leads Salinger back to New York where he’s paired with a couple of police detectives to track down O’Byrne and Stahl’s characters. When the two of them meet in the Guggenheim Museum, it turns into the film’s most impressive central set piece where an amazing shoot-out quite literally tears the place down. In most movies, a climax like that would quickly signal the movie’s imminent end, but this one forms the bridge to the third act, where we learn that the bank isn’t the only one willing to kill off loose ends to protect their investments. Even though it’s rarely a secret how deeply involved the bank might be in all the shady dealings, there are enough surprises as the film comes to a satisfying conclusion that you’ll want to see it again to catch anything you might have missed the first time.
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