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If it's true, as Howard Hawks once said, that a movie only needs "three good scenes and no bad ones," then The International, the new global-banking thriller from director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), makes the grade. With Clive Owen and Naomi Watts starring (respectively) as an Interpol agent and a Manhattan D.A. working together to take down a group of big-money bad guys, The International plays less like a modern action thriller and more like a conspiracy-minded '70s flick -- think Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View.
As Owen and Watts gather information, their potential witnesses and informants are killed off, and the Feds become reluctant to press charges against the globally connected organization. Owen contemplates going outside the law for justice, and, much as in the similarly '70s-styled Michael Clayton, shadowy conspirators step into the light of day to try to stop him -- which is when The International gets the scene that makes it well worth catching on the big screen.
Owen trails a hired killer (Brian F. O'Byrne) to a meeting at the Guggenheim in New York and follows him up the museum's spiral runway. Both men engage in a pitched gun battle -- one of the best action sequences in recent memory. It's not just the setting that makes it so good, although Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture has been re-created by Tykwer's production team in stunning detail. The shoot-out takes place in a very different moral and mental geography than we're accustomed to in thrillers: between gunshots, you see the rivals actually think about their next move, figure how best to get from one place to another via blank, deadly ground.
The International loses a little steam thereafter: the action becomes tinged by a moody, brooding cynicism at odds with the previous excitement. When Owen is trapped inside the Guggenheim, the movie transcends itself and sears a place in your brain.