While wunderkind modernist director Tom Tykwer’s films tend to tease the audience with their complexity, none has had a punchline that slapped the audience in its face quite as resoundingly as The International’s does. Tykwer toys with the idea of how complex the film’s paper-thin plot can be by periodically privileging the viewer with more information than the characters, sometimes sharing it with them later and sometimes not. After all, in following Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), an impotent Interpol agent that just wants his world to be simple again—“there’s nothing complex about cold-blooded murder,” he balks to his superior---even the most simple plot has to at least look complex. If only it ended up that way.
Like the various countries Salinger passes through in his search for answers, Tykwer’s abstract aesthetic breaks down everything into pristine images that can, for the most part, be neatly compartmentalized into segments rather than a comprehensive whole image. This should be the first of many warning signs for the viewer that the "simple" ending they want is not coming. Frank Griebe’s gorgeous cinematography makes Tykwer’s usual comic-book-type cubist montage sequences look slick as hell and the shoot-out in the Guggenheim succeeds in engrossing the viewer where the rest of the film’s (intentionally?) flimsy plot does not. But it all gets thrown back in the viewer’s face in a uber-cynical finale that deprives them of all the joy that such a reactionary, paranoid little romp could supply. For the first time for Tykwer's Run Lola Run acolytes, being tricked feels like being cheated but man, what a pretty-looking cheat.