Presented by Columbia Pictures in association with Relativity Media, The International is a suspenseful political thriller in which the villain is not a single nation or corrupt leader, but instead, one of the largest financial institutions on earth. The film stars Clive Owen as Louis Salinger, an Interpol agent tasked with investigating the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC).
With the help of Manhattan assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman, portrayed by Naomi Watts, Salinger delves into clandestine IBBC activities that have fueled crime and violence around the world, encouraging the global accumulation of debt. The pair’s investigation takes them around the globe to locations including Istanbul, Berlin, and Milan. But as they uncover further details of the financial institution’s looming global influence, Salinger and Whitman find their own lives threatened by some of the most powerful—and corrupt—individuals in the world.
The International presents an intriguing story of global political intrigue and scandal directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker and composer Tom Tykwer. In the process, the espionage thriller also delivers timely commentary on the increasingly broad scope of influence enjoyed by powerful financial institutions, questioning the impact that they can—or should—have on global affairs.
- True to its name, the film was a global project.
Principal photography for The International took place in a variety of locations, including Turkey, Italy, New York City, and France, but over two-thirds of its production occurred in Germany. Columbia Pictures worked alongside Germany’s Studio Babelsberg to carry out the project, and the film marked the studio’s collaboration with several acclaimed German filmmakers, including cinematographer Frank Griebe and production designer Uli Hanisch. The project even received support in the form of tax credits from Germany’s Federal Film Fund.
- The movie was inspired by real events
The International was the first screenplay by Eric Singer (who would later share an Oscar nomination with David O. Russell for American Hustle in 2014) to make it to the big screen, but the screenwriter had been developing the concept for years. Always viewing the story as prime material for a global political thriller, Singer drew inspiration from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal of the late 1980s and early 90s. In what has gone down in history as one of the most shocking, expansive, and expensive cases of financial fraud ever committed, BCCI’s executives leveraged the trust and funds of countless individuals to fund violence and political instability the world over.
Founded by Pakistani citizens but incorporated in Luxembourg, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International began with the purported goal of becoming the first major banking institution serving the Muslim world. The bank maintained headquarters in London, and from the time of its establishment in 1972, it grew to comprise over 400 branches around the world. As time wore on, BCCI proved to be far more than a traditional lending institution.
As evidenced by the nickname bestowed upon it by law enforcement, “The Bank of Crooks and Criminals,” the institution became infamous for its fraudulent lending and money laundering that benefited a number of prominent drug cartels, terrorists, and militant groups, including the Mujahedeen and Abu Nidal. But the bank’s illegal activities extended far beyond typical financial crimes. Headquartered at the bank’s Karachi, Pakistan offices, a secret division known as the “black network” supported the BCCI’s geopolitical influence with methods ranging from surveillance and bribery to kidnapping and murder.
When regulatory bodies across several countries halted its operations in July 1991, BCCI owed over $18 billion to creditors, including a number of legitimate borrowers, such as Asian small businesses and UK local authorities. Although the BCCI’s liquidators, Deloitte Touche, recovered approximately 75 percent of the creditors’ losses from BCCI’s accountants and stakeholders, public outcry against the Bank of England—who had deferred the regulatory issues surrounding BCCI to Luxembourg—resulted in a $1.8 billion lawsuit levied against the national central bank.
The International’s release in February 2009 was particularly timely. The film debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival, presenting a story of global financial fraud during one of the worst banking crises in American history.
- It took four months to construct the set for the film’s finale.
The International contains a total of 550 digitally enhanced shots, many of which contribute to the realism and excitement of the film’s final act. The International builds to a stunning climax inside New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, a widely recognizable landmark ravaged on-screen by a brutal firefight. Because the real museum was undergoing significant construction while The International was filming, the crew was only allowed access to a few of its floors for a single day—nowhere near enough time to complete the elaborate shootout sequence.
To remedy this, the production team gained access to an abandoned train warehouse in Berlin and, armed with the Guggenheim’s blueprints, set upon the four-month task of reconstructing a 98% scale model of the architecturally impressive landmark. The production team relied heavily on CGI to accurately recreate the building’s interior and exterior, taking great care to ensure continuity with shots filmed at the actual Guggenheim.
One of the most impressive examples of digital artistry seen in The International occurs when a massive glass structure suspended over the museum atrium falls to the floor below. As the film’s protagonist fires at the art installation in a desperate attempt to evade his pursuers, the digitally rendered glass structure crashes to the ground with an incredible explosion of fragmented glass, all created using CGI.