Deborah Ross

Banking on greed

The International<br /> 15, Nationwide The Class<br /> 15, Key Cities

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The International

15, Nationwide

The Class

15, Key Cities

The International is a big-budget action-espionage thriller starring Clive Owen as an Interpol agent determined to bring down a nasty bank called IBBC. Aside from doing the usual evil things banks do — like, I assume, having only one person behind the counter during the busiest times — it also runs brisk sidelines in arms trafficking, murder, supporting terrorism and promoting conflicts so as to profit from the debt it creates. (And you wonder why there is only ever one person behind the counter!) The bank’s ultimate aim is to make us all slaves to debt, which is a worry. I am a slave to debt already and, I’m telling you, it’s no joke. I have to get its slippers, run its bath, toil in its fields and, although I have yet to be raped, I certainly lock my door at night and put a chair up against it. Seriously, if debt is ever abolished it is going to have a lot of apologising to do.

Now, I’d like to say that, being all about corporate greed, this is a timely film, and so I will: this is a timely film. But is it any good? Does it take its premise and run with it in an interesting or imaginative way? That’s a tricky one, or would be if the answer were not a simple ‘no’. The premise might be timely, but the execution is same old, same old: car chases, street chases, obvious baddies who are thin and Continental, laborious set-pieces — in this instance, a shoot-out in the Guggenheim Museum that seems to go on for ever — and all laced with woeful dialogue. Or, as Owen puts it at one point: ‘Sometimes, a man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.’ Really? I had no idea. But I’ll certainly avoid avoiding that road in future. On the plus side, Owen is good and a dish, but, as Daniel Craig has already done good and dishy in an action-espionage movie, that whole shtick seems rather derivative now. I don’t know; this film just made me feel tired although that could just be the toiling in the fields. I’ll admit that.

What else to say? OK, Owen, as that agent, is joined in his quest by Naomi Watts as a lawyer, and together they jet all over the place. ‘Filmed in four countries and across two continents,’ boast the press notes, as if we care. Film in the same room — a single classroom, even — but just make it interesting! Luckily, whenever they reach a destination we are, at least, provided with a postcard-style aerial shot along with a helpful label at the bottom of the screen as in: ‘Istanbul, Turkey’, which is good, because we can’t get it confused with Istanbul, Sweden. The performances — Owen is moody and unshaven while Watts is peachy and worried-looking — are fine, but cannot save a film like this. Owen, in particular, tries with a great show of outraged frustration, but he cannot. It’s directed by Tom Tykwer, whose first film, the art house Run, Lola, Run, took the premise of time and fate and ran with it not just with imagination, but also with a fast and ferocious smartness. It just goes to show, I suppose, that too much money can be as bad as too little. Only kidding! Do you know how much sleep you get when you have to put a chair up against the door? Almost none.

Anyway, I was bored during The International and now I’m bored talking about it, so on to The Class, which does not travel across four countries and two continents as it barely leaves that one classroom, but is brilliantly engrossing nonetheless. There is also a lesson in this although I would not presume to say what it is. Do you think that I have time for presumption? Quite. The Class blurs fiction and reality, so much that you never know where one finishes and the other starts, and neither are you meant to. That may even be its point. Directed by Laurent Cantet it is based on the memoirs of François Bégaudeau, a former high school teacher turned novelist who co-wrote the script and stars as a teacher at an inner-city, multicultural high school in a rough area of Paris. The kids are played by the actual kids at the school yet were given fictional narratives to work with. It all sounds rather experimental, darlings, but actually it really works. You are right in that classroom, making the same assumptions the teacher makes about the pupils, and making the same assumptions the pupils make about the teacher. There are no back stories. You just have to go by dribs and drabs of information that occasionally spill over. Sometimes your assumptions are on the money, and sometimes they are not. But what is life itself if not reality and fiction blurred? That sounds pretentious. Still, while we are about it, also remember this: sometimes, a man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.

This is not an ‘inspirational teacher’ movie, but it is a small, quiet inspiration, and now the choice is yours. I don’t have much choice. I just toil, toil, toil away.