In The International, a gripping thriller, Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) are determined to bring to justice one of the world's most powerful banks. Uncovering myriad and reprehensible illegal activities, Salinger and Whitman follow the money from Berlin to Milan to New York to Istanbul. Finding themselves in a high-stakes chase across the globe, their relentless tenacity puts their own lives at risk as their targets will stop at nothing - even murder - to continue financing terror and war. Directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) from an original screenplay written by Eric Warren Singer, The International was shot on location in Germany and throughout Europe.THE ART OF WORLD CINEMA
ABOUT THE FILM
"The International is about two people who attempt to overcome forces much bigger than they are," says producer Charles Roven. "We're all pawns in the world of big corporations and our destinies are being tugged and pulled by their plans for us. But the film shows us that no matter how insignificant we may feel, we as individuals can make a difference."
In the film, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) are driven by the pursuit of justice to take down the most powerful foe imaginable: an international bank with financial and political tentacles that reach into the world's houses of government. Though their task seems impossible, they are determined to take down the bank, which has proven it will stop at nothing, even murder, to advance its own interests.
If the story seems ripped from the headlines, says director Tom Tykwer, it's because the headlines have shown that the banks do control all aspects of our lives. "The mess we're in now started when the banks took advantage of people and encouraged them to live way beyond their means," he says. "The banks' decisions had far-reaching effects - our houses are at risk, our jobs are at risk, ultimately the entire quality of our lives. Global business has developed into an empire with executives of leading corporations - for whom the public doesn't vote - exerting an enormous influence over politics, the economy, our everyday lives, everything."
And though The International is a work of fiction that raises the stakes appropriately for a thriller, Tykwer says that the central issue remains the same. "At the core there are two ordinary human beings - people like you and me - fighting a cold-blooded corporate beast that appears unstoppable. I think anyone can relate to their struggle," he says.
That interest in exploring the heroism of individuals against overpowering forces and overwhelming odds has become a Tykwer trademark. "Salinger is not only fighting to uncover the bank's crimes, but he's fighting an ideological battle," explains the director. "The executives run the world like a business rather than a place in which humans live and derive meaningful connection. They are pragmatists first and foremost, and Salinger wants nothing to do with their world view."
When he first read the script, Tykwer's interest was piqued by a key scene: the story's hero, Louis Salinger, encounters the bank's assassin by chance on a Manhattan street and an unpromising lead turns into a momentous shift in the case. The quiet tension of that scene, as Salinger and his colleagues follow the assassin, builds to a climax at the Guggenheim Museum. "That scene left an indelible impression and struck me as a great movie moment," Tykwer recalls. "As the Guggenheim museum events unfolded immediately thereafter, I began to think this could become an interesting film. The last 40 pages of the script made it for me."
"I think Tom is a real visionary," Owen says of the director. "He has a fantastic sense of film style and a humanity that informs all his work. Perfume, Run, Lola, Run, Heaven, they're all stylistically very interesting, modernist, and diverse, with strong characters. But, in addition, his sense of compassion and understanding of the human condition is an important dimension to his work."
"Tom had a very specific vision for what he wanted," says Roven. "But he's also a great collaborator. He understands what everybody's role is and he brings with him a great team that he's been working with since the beginning of his filmmaking career. He's one of the best people I've ever worked with in terms of not only how he sets up a movie but how he executes it. He gets amazing performances - he's doesn't just shoot the script, he enhances it with every scene."
"He brought a level of excitement to every meeting starting from the first day I met him several years ago," says producer Richard Suckle. "He has such tremendous energy and simply loves making movies. He's a filmmaker with whom you really want to make the long journey movies require."
Though a work of fiction, The International was inspired by the real life drama surrounding the downfall of the Bank of Credit and Commercial International. Founded in Karachi, Pakistan in the 1970s by Agha Hasan Abedi, the international bank quickly turned into the most pervasive money laundering operation in history. In addition to financial services, the bank ran a brisk sideline business in arms trafficking, turnkey mercenary armies, intelligence, and support of terrorism. Legislators in the UK and US finally unearthed these dealings in 1991 as the bank collapsed.
Eric Warren Singer, the screenwriter, says that the real-life BCCI scandal was "the largest criminal corporate enterprise in the history of the world. Over the past few years, culminating with the current financial crisis, we have seen an unprecedented escalation of corporate greed, but what fascinated me about BCCI was that it was more than simply greed; they were the bank for those who operate in the black and grey latitudes of this world - intelligence organizations, drug dealers, organized crime, and third world tyrants looting their own countries. The BCCI was a full service bank that could provide its clients with a wide range of services. Whether it was moving your money anywhere in the world without a trace, having someone killed or anything in between, BCCI was the bank you could trust. And they were able to operate with impunity because just like terrorist organizations and organized crime, governments around the world - including our government - also needed and used their services. Although the BCCI was shut down in the 90's, there are banks that are engaged in the same type of business today - laundering money, promoting and fostering conflict in order to profit from the debt that it creates. The bank in our film is the 21st century version of BCCI and like its real world counterparts, is much more sophisticated and therefore destructive than its forbearer. The BCCIs of today have learned from the mistakes of the past and have created organizations whose structures are so complicated and Byzantine that it's almost impossible for authorities to track and successfully prosecute them for their illegal activities."
Though the BCCI provided inspiration, Singer says that by making a contemporary work of fiction the film could relate well to modern audiences at a time when he sees shades of the scandal in the news. "Although this film was rooted in events of the past, it was important to all of us that it be relevant to the present - and unfortunately, I don't think anyone can dispute the striking parallels. At the time, the BCCI was the biggest Ponzi scheme ever, now only eclipsed by the Madoff scandal. The BCCI was one of the first international banks to aggressively pursue the practice of predatory lending," he says, "and now the entire world financial system is experiencing its worst crisis since the Great Depression as a result of predatory lending and the unscrupulous manipulation of debt. The same lending principles used by credit card and mortgage companies to indebt individuals in the first world is utilized to enslave entire countries in the third world."
In addition, says Tykwer, poetic license allowed the filmmakers some freedom in creating a thriller. "We didn't want to hide the thriller behind a curtain of facts and elements to prove how closely related it is to actual events," says the director. Adds Singer, "We were always aware that we wanted this film to have the engine of a quintessential 70's thriller. We were trying to strike a balance between a film that was weighty enough to feel like an expose but had the velocity and visceral tension of a classic paranoid thriller."
That The International called for an international shoot, filming in four countries, across two continents was irresistible for the filmmaking team. Producer Lloyd Phillips, a veteran of productions ranging from Beyond Borders to Twelve Monkeys, says, "Filmmaking, like so many other things, has become more global. Studios are shooting in Russia for Russia, and in China for China, or in India for India. I love making movies in different parts of the world because the crews are getting better and better. Shooting in as many countries as we did on The International required careful planning, but the result is a huge amount of gratification."
CASTING THE FILM
Tom Tykwer and the producers had Clive Owen in mind for the role of Salinger from the very beginning, but it was seeing Owen's praised performance in Children of Men that cemented the idea in the director's mind. "When I saw Children of Men, I knew I'd found our leading man," says Tykwer. "He was good-looking, but carried a world-weariness. He infused that character with a loneliness and roughness combined with a sensitivity that I also wanted to see in Salinger."
"The contrast between Salinger's values and those of the criminal network he opposes had to be clearly drawn," says Tykwer. "Salinger struggles to stay within the limits of the law when the law seems like a useless weapon or an impediment to justice. So his tactics may sometimes exceed his authority but at the end of the day he is an agent of the law, operating on a razor's edge between his conscience and his professional limitations. This struggle adds a realism and complexity to his character."
Owen met with Tykwer over coffee during the film's development. Together they shared a similar vision of the character and also found they were compatible colleagues. "Clive is extremely focused but very funny. Our meeting showed me what the production would be like. It was great. With him you can be extremely focused, but never lose the fun and joy of the work - a rare pleasure."
"Salinger is a very unconventional lead character," says Owen. "He's not slick; he's not the cool cop, tracking the bank down. He's a volatile, passionate, committed, even hot-headed and obsessed Interpol agent, trying to make others see what he sees the bank doing."
Equally resolute, but more level in her investigative approach, Eleanor Whitman watches Salinger's back and keeps him in line when necessary. She leads the investigation and there's a resilience and power to her character. "She is the balancing second protagonist in the film," says the director. "Although there is friction between Salinger and Whitman, her energy and emotional power calms and steadies him and she gives him more clarity."
Salinger and Whitman subscribe to the same value system and each chose to join the legal profession to effect positive change. But if Salinger walks the line between what is legal and what is not, Whitman is determined to prove that the good guys play by the rules.
"She's not an icy career woman, but a real woman handling a chaotic life of family and career," says Watts. "My character's in control and has a lot of integrity. She's operating in a man's world so she's on her game."
Though she found the role intriguing, Watts was not eager to work so soon after giving birth to her first child. The director had to use all his powers of persuasion to lure her into accepting the role.
"I really had to talk her into it," admits Tykwer. "Not because she didn't want to do the movie, but because her baby was due just before our shoot. I had to convince her because I thought she was perfect for this character."
The filmmakers arranged for Watts' scenes to be backed up at the end of the schedule to allow the actress time at home. Joining the production in Berlin, two months after principal photography began, Watts adeptly juggled the needs of an infant with the rigorous demands of a movie. As a real-life example of a woman balancing career and family, Watts offered the director insight and first-hand knowledge into Whitman's character.
The chemistry between Owen and Watts was palpable from the beginning. "It wasn't surprising to me they were so immediately perfect. They're a very easy and energetic match," says Tykwer. "It was a perfect dream come true: Clive and Naomi, whom I consider two of the most interesting contemporary actors of their generation, working together for the first time in a film and both wanting to be involved in the development of the story and methodology of the characters. I felt quite blessed."
"Clive is just brilliant," says Watts. "He's incredibly good-looking, but I've never seen less vanity in an actor. He's a very un-moody, uncomplicated person and a lot of fun to be around and work with."
Watts says she took the role not only for the chance to work with Owen and Tykwer, but because the project itself was so satisfying. "It's smart and fast-paced, with a cross-section of locations and cultures and incredible production values," she notes. "But what I really love about this film is that it feels very current and reflective of our times."
At the head of the bank Salinger and Whitman so doggedly pursue is Jonas Skarssen, played by Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen. Skarssen has risen to the top of his game to run a vast banking organization with a few close associates. Impervious to the immorality of their actions, this elite group of financial wizards move money, people and governments around from the IBBC's modern glass boardroom as though strategizing their next chess move.
"They're not the super-enigmatic superstars of corporate bosses in previous eras," says Tykwer. "They have slick appearances, but they're rather normal, well educated rich neighbors one might encounter."
Nonetheless, they are cunning and dangerous tacticians, coolly detached from the repercussions of his bank's operations.
"His view is that he's not creating the system, but the system created him and needs him," producer Richard Suckle states. "To him, war and money are just business; he believes that if he doesn't do it, someone else will."
For Skarssen, it's all a game - money creates debt, and debt creates influence. "He's not out to rule the world," describes the director. "He merely wants to spread his influence to see just how far it can go without being stopped."
Wilhelm Wexler is from an older generation and a loner amongst Skarssen's team of confidantes. A former Stazi agent from East Germany, he is more complicated than his colleagues at the bank and difficult to read.
"He's a ruthless killer, organizes assassinations, and, quite frankly, he's a monster," says Tykwer. "But at the same time, he's the most fascinating monster in the film because there's so much we like about him and sympathize with."
Actor Armin Mueller-Stahl shrouds this character in mystery. "I think the secret, and one of the most important things in films, is not to open the door too early on a character," the Oscar-nominated star (Shine) suggests. "A monster is deep inside and you can never tell if he's a good guy or a bad guy."
His character's roots are all too familiar to the actor who lived in East Berlin for many years. A Renaissance man the world knows primarily through his films, Mueller-Stahl was once a concert pianist who also writes, paints, directs, sketches and draws.
The director believed Mueller-Stahl was one of his key castings because he brought a gravitas to the role, as someone in whom you inherently trust and believe. As with Skarssen, the director was not looking to depict Wexler as a one dimensional villain, but rather as a real peRson whom audiences could easily place in today's world.
"It's a film about our times. It's about weapons, power, and money," says Mueller-Stahl. "Perhaps we can't make a better world by doing films, but we should always try."
Brían F. O'Byrne rounds out the cast as the film's mysterious assassin. Referred to only as The Consultant in the screenplay, he works alone, unnamed and physically unremarkable. O'Byrne struck a balance between inconspicuous and utterly unforgettable.
"Nothing is ever really given away about him," explains O'Byrne. "You never see where he lives, for example, and he just exists in this netherworld. He's like a shadow and a wonderfully proficient sniper."
"We wanted this guy to be an invisible man who completely blends into his surroundings," says Tykwer. "Someone you don't notice, but who is still menacing and leaves a powerful impression behind. We stay curious about him, but we never understand who he is. He's enigmatic throughout the movie."
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
To tell the story of The International, the filmmakers would need a team that was truly international, with expertise all over the globe. Joining the producing team with Charles Roven and Richard Suckle was producer Lloyd Phillips, who has vast expertise with a wide range of locations and logistically complex shoots. Phillips proved an invaluable asset as Suckle and Roven moved a globe-trotting production to Istanbul, Berlin, Lyon, Milan, and New York. READ MORE ABOUT SHOOTING THE FILM
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
TOM TYKWER (Director/Composer) was born in Wuppertal in 1965 and made his first Super-8 film when he was eleven years old. From 1980 on he worked in various independent arthouse cinemas as a projectionist. In 1988 he became the programmer at Berlin's Moviemento cinema, as well as by doing some script analyzing and shooting TV profiles of a number of different directors to make ends meet. Around this time he also met cameraman Frank Griebe, who has worked on nearly all Tykwer's film projects right up to the present day.
Following short films Because (1990) and Epilogue (1992), Tykwer made Deadly Maria in 1993, his first full-length feature. The film premiered at the 1993 Hof Film Festival, and thereafter screened at over 60 different film festivals around the world. Actors included Nina Petri, Sepp Bierbichler and Joachim Król, as well as a number of others who would come to work regularly with Tykwer.
Together with Stefan Arndt, Wolfgang Becker und Dani Levy, Tykwer founded the production company X Filme Creative Pool in 1994. Arndt, one of the producers on Deadly Maria, would eventually build up a long-standing production team for Tykwer - in conjunction with co-managing director, Maria Köpf.
Tykwer wrote the screenplay for Life is All You Get together with Wolfgang Becker in 1995-96, before going on to direct his own second full-length feature, Winter Sleepers (1997). One of the most important new contacts made during the course of this film was with sound designer and sound mixer Matthias Lempert, who since that time has done the sound for all of Tykwer's films.
In 1998 Tykwer made Run Lola Run, the film that gave X Filme their first international hit. In spite of, or perhaps because of, its unusual narrative structure, the film went on to become the most successful German film of that year. It has won over 30 prizes and awards around the world.
Tykwer's fourth film, The Princess and the Warrior (2000), in which Tykwer worked once again with Franka Potente - who played the character of Lola in the previous film - resulted in the successful debut of the Tykwer's new distribution company, X Verleih AG. The film also marked the first time the director worked with both editor Mathilde Bonnefoy and set designer Uli Hanisch, the beginning of a highly fruitful creative relationship that has endured until today.
In 2002 came Heaven, Tykwer's first English language film, based on a script by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski. Produced in co-production by X Filme and Miramax with Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi in the leading roles, the film opened the 2002 International Berlin Film Festival.
In August 2002 Tykwer made the short film True with Natalie Portman and Melchior Beslon for Paris, Je T'aime, a compilation film project in which very different international directors were asked to film a short love story set in one of Paris' 20 arrondissements.
After almost four years of work Tykwer's most elaborate film to date, Perfume, was released in cinemas on 14 September 2006. While the film received some controversial comments in the press, the film version of Patrick Süsskind's bestseller, produced by Bernd Eichinger and with actors such as Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman and Rachel Hurd-Wood in the leads, gave Tykwer his biggest box-office success to date. The film remained in the international cinema charts for several weeks, achieving blockbuster success particularly in Europe, Asia and South America.
In September 2008, Tykwer directed the short film The Inside of Things, part of Alexander Kluges' compendium DVD project of Karl Marx's Capital.
In October shooting began on the short film Feierlich Travels, Tykwer's contribution to the compilation film project Germany 09, in which more than a dozen German filmmakers gave their take on the current social, cultural and political situation in Germany.
In November 2008 Tykwer oversaw the shooting of the Kenyan-German low budget production Soul Boy, a film shot almost exclusively in Africa's largest slum, Kibera (Nairobi). Tykwer and young female Ghanian-Kenyan director Hawa Essuman, made the film based on a script Tykwer wrote together with the Nairobi-based writer Billy Kahora.
The projects on which Tom Tykwer has worked as producer for X Filme include Gigantic (1999, director Sebastian Schipper), Soundless (2004, director Mennan Yapo), A Friend of Mine (2006, director Sebastian Schipper) and The Heart is a Dark Forest (2007, director Nicolette Krebitz).
ERIC WARREN SINGER (Screenwriter) was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He went to college in Boston, where he directed an award-winning student film starring James Gandolfini. After college, Singer returned to Los Angeles, where he took his first job as the head writer on the MTV animated series "Aeon Flux." His first screenplay saw David Fincher attached to direct and catapulted Eric into the world of feature film writing. He has subsequently written screenplays for Ron Howard and Gore Verbinski. The International is his first produced feature. Singer continues to live and work in Los Angeles.