Capital Markets

Big, Bad, Boring Bankers

The interminable socialism of The International

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It's rarely difficult to spot a banker bad guy on the big-screen: the refined speech and perfect coiffure, the shiny suit and impeccably knotted tie, the gleaming black luxury sedan, and the squad of menacing thugs behind him. He (and it's almost always a he) carries a mobile phone that won't even be out for another two years, works in a hyper-modern office with a magnificent view, and delivers every line with expertly calibrated condescension and a hint of a sneer. It's all business, and it's only business. Sorry, chap!

In The International, director Tom Tykwer's thriller about power and corruption in international finance, villainous multinational bankers and their henchmen are everywhere—the rooftops of Istanbul, the streets of Milan, the art-decked walkways of New York's Guggenheim. They finance wars, enslave nations and peoples to debt, and murder with impunity. And the only one who can stop the cuff link-clad killers is Clive Owen, disheveled but determined INTERPOL investigator.

As agent Louis Salinger, Owen is everything the film's banker villains are not: unkempt, unshaven, impolitic, prone to wearing suits that appear to have been wadded up in garbage bag for a week. Nor does he care about money. Instead, like Steven Seagal, he's out for justice against the thieving profiteers of the world.

Along with New York attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), he spends most of the movie on the trail of a particularly nasty band of lenders who are scheming to consolidate their power through a complex series of international arms deals. Much of the time, that means sitting in interminable meetings explaining bank records and investigation reports to each other. Occasionally, it means tracking a balding, one-legged assassin who does the bank's dirty work. (In one of the film's only clever lines, one of the bank's executives coolly refers to him as "a consultant.")

It doesn't spoil much to say that the movie doesn't put much stock in bankers, banking, or anything related to the financial system. Which is pretty much every organization and institution in the Western world's democratic-capitalist system. "Hezbollah, the CIA, China, Iran, Germany, every multinational corporation—every one!" They're all involved, a caught banker explains, in a financial system that's built to guarantee its own survival by enslaving the world, one nation at a time, in the chains of debt. "Money," the film's lead banker baddie explains, "is not our primary medium of exchange." (Try telling that to the ticket-seller at the box-office.)

The only way to throw a wrench into the capitalist machine, to provide the justice Owen craves, is to step outside the system—to ignore the law and do what it takes to make the bad guys pay. To put it another way, he suggests that justice requires a violent revolution against capitalism. Where have we heard this before?

Perhaps it's not capitalism, just capitalism's excesses—the rapacious bankers who abuse their money and power—which are at fault? Maybe, but when the person delivering the lecture is revealed to be a former Communist stalwart, one whose fall into the banking-world cesspool requires redemption, it's hard to interpret it any other way.

Still, who cares if its politics lean toward revolutionary anti-capitalism? Is it entertaining? Aside from a terrific shoot-out in the Guggenheim—Owen starts at the top of the rotunda and must work his way down through a seemingly endless supply of thugs armed with automatic weapons—not very. Owen, Watts, and the cast of Eurojerk financiers spend most of the movie taking turns delivering drab expository dialog, like unhelpful animatronic guides on an Epcot Center ride. The conspiratorial bent just makes it all seem ridiculous, not suspenseful, which means The International fails as both excitement and insight. It's as paranoid as a WTO protester, but as boring as a spreadsheet.

Peter Suderman blogs at TheAmericanScene.com.

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  1. Why am I not surprised?

  2. Though if they wanted to do a series where the bankers are plotting with their friends in Congress to screw over taxpayers and the hero of the story is Friedman-look-alike economist, I might be open to suggestions.

  3. the hero of the story is Friedman-look-alike economist

    Rick Moranis is probably cheap these days.

  4. Run, Lola, Run was so f**king overrated…

  5. I’m sorry, but I think that shooting people in the name of socialism is why God made guns. Pow!

  6. Friedman sucked up to The Federal Reserve System…That is why the chicago schoola nd the republicans talk about him…why would he be a hero…Bernanke is just doing what Friedman advised…”expansionary” policy to answer every economic downturn.

    Only the Austrians forcefuly argue that government spending is not “stimulus” and the Fed is just effing things up.

  7. Clive Owen has been in some left wing howlers in the past…anyone see Shoot’em Up an anti-gun movie that requires the use of guns to put down gun sellers..

  8. anyone see Shoot’em Up an anti-gun movie that requires the use of guns to put down gun sellers

    I believe you may be way overthinking that one, josh.

  9. I believe you may be way overthinking that one, josh.

    You need to watch that movie again…especially the last 20 min of it…it has a clear anti-gun message.

    Of course the first half of the movie completely contradicts the last 20 min which is why i call it a howler…maybe they were going for irony…idk.

  10. “Bernanke is just doing what Friedman advised…’expansionary’ policy to answer every economic downturn.”

    The problem is that the fed didn’t really follow a countercyclical policy. It essentially had an expansionary policy whether there was a recession or a boom.

  11. Shoot’em Up

    Never got an anti-gun message from that…though I have to say that the most memorable thing for me about it..was the very naked Clive Owen. Great movie! 😀

  12. The problem is that the fed didn’t really follow a countercyclical policy. It essentially had an expansionary policy whether there was a recession or a boom.

    Well yes they did have expansionary policy during a boom…but the anvil that broke the camels back was Franny and Freddy going on a suicide binge of buying up risky debt which distorted the market to one of due diligence for creating new loans to one of creating any crazy loan you can cuz government lackeys Fanny and Freddy will buy them up at crazy prices.

  13. Never got an anti-gun message from that.

    WTF?!?! Are you poeple blind!!

    The “Bad Guys” were gun manufactures.

  14. I saw the last 1/3rd of Shoot ’em Up and also caught a pretty obvious anti-gun slant.

    On top of that it was just an utterly, dreadfully stupid film.

  15. On top of that it was just an utterly, dreadfully stupid film.

    Yeah even before i caught the whiff of anti-gun propaganda i was pretty disgusted with the movie when Owen’s character found a lactating hooker to feed the baby he saved.

    I am pretty sure most people who watched the movie never even saw the last 20 min of it.

  16. ” when Owen’s character found a lactating hooker to feed the baby he saved.”

    God, how stupid would you have to be do that?

  17. God, how stupid would you have to be do that?

    huh? I think Mediageek was referring to the stupidity of the plot. Not to the intellectual of a fictional character who through stroke of genius decided that breast milk from a hooker would be better for a baby then formula bought in a store.

  18. Meh. I guess my Hollywood propaganda filters are just permanently turned up to about 9.5, so I missed that one.

  19. intellectual

    Sometimes I hate firefox spell check.

  20. Clive Owen is HOT. If Clive Owen had starred in The Motorcycle Diaries, I would’ve watched it. I am sure his political views are as internally consistent and well-informed as those of George Clooney or Drew Barrymore, but I don’t give shit. If he makes a movie, I watch it. If he takes his clothes off in said movie, I watch it many times. Unlike George Clooney he looks good naked and upon speaking doesn’t immediately reveal himself to be an idiot. He very likely is an idiot – he’s an actor — but he’s not an immediately obvious idiot. And he’s sexy. Did I mention he’s sexy?

  21. More like “The Internationale”!

  22. stubby,
    And your point, in relation to the thread, is exactly…?

  23. Clive Owen is HOT. If Clive Owen had starred in The Motorcycle Diaries, I would’ve watched it. I am sure his political views are as internally consistent and well-informed as those of George Clooney or Drew Barrymore, but I don’t give shit. If he makes a movie, I watch it. If he takes his clothes off in said movie, I watch it many times. Unlike George Clooney he looks good naked and upon speaking doesn’t immediately reveal himself to be an idiot. He very likely is an idiot – he’s an actor — but he’s not an immediately obvious idiot. And he’s sexy. Did I mention he’s sexy?

    yeah even as a straight man I will pretty much watch anything he is in….

  24. And your point, in relation to the thread, is exactly…?

    Oh. I’m supposed to post stuff relevant to the thread? When did that start?

  25. Back to the topic: So a hidden global conspiracy to control wealth is demonizing capitalism? Is there even a remote chance that the movie is saying the modern world isn’t truly capitalist and we need an anarchist revolution? Cuz that movie might be interesting.

  26. While all the focus on Clive Owen — he’s a pretty good actor – Children of God, Croupier, Second Sight, Gosford Park — ofd course he’s had howlers, so does every actor — perhaps he’s in this flick cause he thought it was a good role, not because hes a pinko – maybe he is a pinko – who cares, hes a good actor, thats all I’m concerned about —

    And Run Lola Run was hella awesome.

  27. Franke Potente is way underated.

  28. This is way too low on the page for my bon mot to get the notice and attention it deserves. Boo reason for being too prolific!

  29. While some “capitalists” certainly do all kinds of awful things to make more money, the evidence would suggest that “socialists” haven’t really done any better.

  30. What kind of moron tries to wreck a modern bank with guns? All he had to do was wave a stack of sub-prime mortgages in front of the bankers, and the fucker would have gone down like that.

  31. Run Lola Run was hella awesome

    spur – I respectfully disagree. *As Kyle* and stop saying hella!

    economist – most of the posters here are male, and have no problem talking about the actresses they find hot, relevant or not. We should grant stubby and capelza the same right.

  32. Socialists have probably done far worse things to make money and/or keep their power. Realize that socialists are CEO’s too — but CEO’s of armys, other people’s money — and are driven by the same greed, ambition, and desire for job security. The worst combination is capitalists who enlist the power of socialist governments so that both win. In theory, when government wins, the people win. But in a corrupt country, only the elite members of government win; and in a less corrupt government, some of the benefits do trickle down to the ordinary members of society.

  33. Please cease the whining about socialism. This was a standard movie about a massive conspiracy and an anti-hero, except in this instance the government/Illuminati are replaced by bankers. You’re trying too hard to make it more than that.

    *I haven’t actually seen it, and it looks dumb, but I can tell all this from the preview and the fact that this article had not a single good example.

  34. It doesn’t have a scene with numerous “clown car” regulators piling out of an American made sedan running into the bank and asking the dumbest fucking questions ever. Questions that even first year business students wouldn’t ask. Or a scene with 5 different regulator agencies sending what must be a cloned shitty suit wearing fat guys to pore over documents you can manipulate a million different ways if you have more than 3 brain cells.

    Banking is just not that exciting. Even when everything is going to hell or you are doing something illegal.

  35. Thank you spur.

    the hub and I were going to drink and play cards for valentine’s but maybe I can drag him to the movie. He doesn’t care if I get to watch Clive as long as he gets to watch lots of different kinds of guns, and annoy me for 2 hours by explaining exactly what type of gun each one is, and why they can’t really do what they are supposedly doing in each scene.

  36. BakedPenguin,
    Point taken. I’ll remember that in future. And now that you mention it, I’ve also commented here on actresses I find attractive.

  37. “and annoy me for 2 hours by explaining exactly what type of gun each one is, and why they can’t really do what they are supposedly doing in each scene.”

    That’s not annoying, I do that all the time…Ah, crap.

  38. spur,
    “While all the focus on Clive Owen — he’s a pretty good actor – Children of God”

    I think you mean “Children of Men”. And, yeah, it was pretty good.

  39. Just repeat to yourself “It’s just a movie, I should really just relax …

  40. It’s scary how liberals actually believe this Hollywood tripe. The only two ways corporations make money is 1) voluntary economic transactions, and 2) lobbying gub’ment. They don’t go around killing their competitors, they don’t engage in elaborate schemes to steal pension checks, etc., etc. Golden parachutes do not translate into violent coercive power over other people. That only happens in the movies. Engaging in crime is just not profitable.

    Face it

  41. Run, Lola, Run was so f**king overrated…

    Agreed. So was everything else Tykwer has done.

  42. “Perhaps it’s not capitalism, just capitalism’s excesses-the rapacious bankers who abuse their money and power-which are at fault? Maybe, but when the person delivering the lecture is revealed to be a former Communist stalwart, one whose fall into the banking-world cesspool requires redemption, it’s hard to interpret it any other way.”

    And when the author of these lines finds that a hopeless series such as 24, is ok because it is unbelievable (http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/suderman200601230849.asp),
    it is difficult to believe that his critic of this movie isn’t mainly driven by his ideological preferences :o)

  43. “(and it’s almost always a he)”

    You are sexist! It is ALWAYS a “he” in real life. Not almost always. Movies that imply otherwise are sexy. I mean sexist.

  44. They finance wars, enslave nations and peoples to debt, and murder with impunity.

    For a second there, I thought the movie would be about the Fed….

  45. Very interesting article, thanks. Carry on the good work….

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