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Gunfight at the museum: Owen in The International.

Making a Killing

By Ann Morrow

The International

Directed by Tom Tykwer

Minutes after meeting with a high-level informant, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) turns to see the man reel as if from a blow, clutch his chest, vomit, and collapse in the street. Racing to his aid, Salinger is struck by a car. Next scene up, Salinger is refusing medical treatment to inspect the informant’s corpse. He intimidates the medical examiner—his flash of temper is just a harbinger of his recent past and immediate future—and discovers evidence that the man did not die of a heart attack.

The action-packed opening to The International is a tip-off as to its director, Tom Tykwer. The German auteur of Run Lola Run, Tykwer built a reputation for coherently kinetic action sequences (driven by circumstance, not marketing), and The International has a lollapalooza of a shoot-out—in the Guggenheim Museum. (Well, actually it’s a German set that’s a dead ringer for the New York landmark.) The reason Salinger gets caught in a hailstorm of assassination attempts is because he’s gotten too close to the inner workings of a multinational bank called the IBBC. The bank is based in Luxembourg, but it represents an even more corrupt version of the World Bank, the IMF, or a half dozen other banks that have been in the news lately. Salinger and his partner, a Manhattan district attorney (Naomi Watts), are prevented from investigating the murder when it’s linked to the IBBC’s global arms deals. As the bank’s ruthless CEO explains to the leader of an African revolution, money isn’t the bank’s primary medium of exchange; debt is. “Control the debt, and you control everything,” explains a politician.

The film’s script (by newcomer Eric Singer) hinges on the interplay between profit mongering at the highest financial and corporate levels (a family similar to the Agnellis make an appearance), and elusions of justice between various law-enforcement agencies. The plot is efficiently mechanical (though Tykwer can globe-trot with the best of the Bond films); it has some of the criminal flamboyance of Lords of War but doesn’t achieve the hothouse, in-house suspense of Michael Clayton. And Watts is underutilized in a wisp of a role. Owen, however, electrifies the procedurals like a live wire, and Salinger’s scenes with the bank’s head of security (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a former Stasi operative who advises him to go outside of the law, have a philosophical imperative that you won’t find in a Bourne caper.

Credit Crisis

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Directed by P.J. Hogan

Did I get this movie because THE powers that be at Metroland knew that on a recent business trip to Manhattan I returned trying to conceal two pair of shoes, two handbags, a belt (but what a belt!), two tops, a dress and a pair of leggings? I swear, somebody at this paper has seen me trying to nonchalantly sneak bags of sale merch from my car to my house, and this is my penance: reviewing Confessions of a Shopaholic.

It should have been titillating fun, but then again, so should have Sex and the City. The idea that somebody could literally get off, or at least avoid the panic attack, simply by immersing herself in Henri Bendel, is not such a stretch. Indeed, when Holly Golightly proclaimed the innate sanctity of Tiffany’s, it was considered an inspired bit of wisdom, if a little nutty; but you throw in a major recession, and suddenly such thinking is downright unpatriotic. The point behind Confessions of a Shopaholic, based on two enormously popular Brit novels, is that one shouldn’t have to find happiness solely via designer duds, but that one can find happiness in such things as long as one is also dating a really hot intellectual sort. The great equalizer, proving that your Prada shoes and your glitzy bling are really just a lark, a bit of visual artistry, because you’ve got the brainiac to prove you’re not all that vain.

Isla Fisher, who is the kind of comedian who brings to mind Jean Arthur combined with Lucille Ball, plays Rebecca Bloomwood, the eponymous shopaholic, who gamely takes a stab at writing about finances for Smart Savings magazine, even though she’s drowning in credit-card debt. Most of the movie involves Rebecca’s “madcap” (not really, but this isn’t the 1930s) efforts to stay one foot ahead of the debt collector; she shows a talent for making finances seem like, well, shopping. Her editor, Luke (Hugh Dancy), is a sort of junior version of Hugh Grant—before the hooker—and therefore he’s dreamy and a catch. In case we wouldn’t like him enough for being all that, it is revealed that he’s secretly loaded, but doesn’t like to use Mummy’s funds. What’s not to like about that kind of security net?

Too much of Confessions is about Fisher straddling or seemingly humping innocent passersby, such as a-must-be-desperate-for-employment Vanessa Redgrave, who, the title credits tell us, is “Drunken Lady at Party.” This is unfortunate, as the actress seems supremely capable of delivering pure physical comedy, and does so to a small extent in a dance bit that could have been all fluttery and cow-eyed. Not enough is made of the catch-22 that many young people find themselves in, when trying to fit into a certain career or lifestyle, but doing so on a shoestring budget. That everything these days is based in large part solely on image is understood; the fact that Confessions takes its heroine’s underlying rationalization for her outré spending as a cute weakness, not so understandable.

—Laura Leon

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