TOM TYKWER on 'THE INTERNATIONAL' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
January 29, 2009
In the corporate crime thriller The International, persistent Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) fight to uncover the insidious misdeeds of the International Bank of Business and Credit, a financial powerhouse involved in a laundry list of illegal activities meant to further its stranglehold over world affairs. Following a series of leads that takes them around the globe, the duo unearth the disturbing realization that the IBBC's influence is seemingly omnipresent and undeniable.
The International features a myriad of visually charged scenes, from stunning architecture in Berlin to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. But amidst the film's international locales and its depiction of an amoral underworld of business, there is a single sequence that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the shootout at the Guggenheim. Set in the famous Manhattan art museum, this surprisingly action-packed climax boasts an epic amount of crossfire carnage, with Clive Owen's character improvising alliances and tactics on the fly as assassins assail him from all corners.
In this interview, director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run, Perfume) talks about planning, executing, and integrating this spectacular showdown.
MEDIA: Do you know what the Guggenheim people think of the giant shootout? Have they seen the movie yet?
TOM: Yes, I know they've seen it...I hear they quite love it. I haven't spoken to them directly yet because I'm flying to New York next week and we're going to have a premiere there. And we have the premiere party at the Guggenheim. So that's very nice. [laughs]
Have you watched the film with an audience yet and gauged their reaction?
I haven't. Well, of course we had test screenings, but that is always something else. No, next week we're opening the Berlin Film Festival, that will be my first "real audience screening." And I'm really excited about it. I would have loved to be there yesterday [at the press screening]. The professional crowd is interesting because they're so hard to get "out of their cage." [laughs] Well, you know what I mean...Some people told me it was quite good emotions in the screening, and it's real fun to have a professional audience that still goes along with a film. That's kind of the best thing you can get...And this is a kind of film where I think you have the joy of seeing what we've done with the genre, and where we've changed rules, and where we go in another direction--and you enjoy the rule change because you know the rule. And that's the point, of course, in particular, this genre. Everybody's seen thousands--or let's say hundreds--of thrillers in his life. And we feel like we've seen them all. And then to see that there's things you didn't expect even though you're so experienced in watching this stuff...I love that. And if I can experience that with an audience, it's the greatest reward.
We understand you were a workaholic and supervised both a night set and a day set for the Guggenheim sequence...
[laughs] Yeah...Well, the problem was there were so many shots we had to cover in a few weeks that we decided to work with two separate units--so one day unit and one night unit. Because the set, you can light it always constantly, so we could basically work around the clock. But because every shot was so particular--I mean, I developed it together with the DP over months, we had created this kind of exact sequence of shots--it is problematic to then just leave it to somebody else. I can't really do that, even though I had an amazing second unit director who I loved working with. But I ended up being there most of the time just in order to be that person that kind of is the glue between those two seemingly separately working units. I think you need somebody to create the glue so that ultimately, in the editing, you can really get the flow of the energy. Because a handheld camera from one operator and a handheld camera from another operator isn't exactly the same thing. You sometimes have to tell them to be less shaky or to be more shaky, or to be focusing more on a certain framing in order to really make it match right. And I think you can sometimes tell from films where it's completely separate, where you know they've sent some unit somewhere and they shot that action sequence...We wanted the sequences to be totally integrated into the style of the entire movie. But I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway, so I'd rather be on set. [laughs] It's a bizarre idea. I could never just walk home and know that other people are still shooting my film...I don't know how that works, and how you can have dinner somewhere and you know they're shooting! I mean, if they're shooting, I want to be there! [laughs]
Now that it's finished, how do you feel about the way the action climax turned out?
The good thing is I think you really have to see it to understand it. [laughs] It's been the most insane set piece that I've ever had to do...It's the big fun, of course, that unexpected parties have to join forces. I mean, everything turns in such weird ways. And then to [have] one of the trademark architectural places of 20th century...Architecture in the movie is so relevant in general. It's kind of an additional character to the film. And in this particular case, you've got this vertigo element that comes through the rotunda, and that helps you feel with Clive and his situation...[One thing that] I love so much about his performance [is] that you know he's kind of a tough cookie, but he hasn't been in many shootouts in his life. He's not like using the gun every week. He's totally not Bond. He's totally not experienced in a situation like that. And how can you actually be experienced in this kind of a mess? [laughs] And you can sense that--you can sense how real his panic is, and at the same time, there's this urge to survive and to bring these people down that makes him still be strong in a situation like that. And that he's kind of falling into a vertigo and the architecture itself supports it so much was one of the big, fun parts of shooting it.