Helmer Tom Tykwer [Run, Lola, Run (1998)] does a good job with this Euro thriller, taking advantage of real-life banking scandals of both the present and the past. Numerous locations in Europe build up to an astonishing sequence set in New York, with the action heading to Turkey for the finale.
As the pic opens, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) is in Berlin, watching a deal play out that could be a big nail in the coffin of the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC)—an outfit that is into all sorts of unseemly activities. Unfortunately, he sees a colleague die as a result of a quickly passing high-tech assassin.
His partner in this investigation is New York Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), who keeps pleading with her boss (James Rebhorn) to give them more resources. But, he claims his hands are tied, even when the bank seems to be behind the assassination of a major political figure in Italy. This comes after an IBBC executive, who is about to turn, is found dead, and Salinger does not think it was an accident.
He figures the only way to proceed is to track the assassin, because it appears to be the same guy in all cases. The assassin, named “The Consultant” (Brian F. O’Byrne), is handled for IBBC by their security consultant Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Wexler has an interesting past, revealed later in the film.
The scene now changes to New York, as the team believe this is where the consultant lives. Soon, he is spotted on his way to taking a meeting at the Guggenheim Museum with Wexler. This time, the target is Salinger, but he won’t be able to pull it off, as a separate large hit team has been brought in to kill them both (Salinger and The Consultant). Thus begins a 14 minute set piece as the two sides shoot it out while walking down the ramp, against a backdrop of modern art, video screens, and terrified bystanders.
Clearly, the scene could not have been shot at the museum, but was done on a re-creation of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed iconic building in Berlin.
From there, it’s back to Europe for the big showdown with IBBC execs.
Worth a look, and with some exciting moments, the movie does get talky at times and has a bit too much proverb-like dialog: “The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.” “Sometimes a man meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” At least they didn’t put “Grasshopper” at the end of those sentences.
A few more thoughts: Mueller-Stahl brings in the film’s best perf, you wonder why Watts signed on for her essentially pointless role, there had to be a better way of finding The Consultant than just a chance meeting on the street, and why would IBBC—known for its discretion—set up such a high profile shootout at the Guggenheim?
As to the real-life inspiration, the pic is based on The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), founded in Pakistan, and registered in Luxembourg. BCCI ran afoul of regulators, was implicated in handling terrorist and dictator money, and participated in money laundering. Yet, it was given a clean bill of health by such as Price Waterhouse and Ernst & Young.
Many big political figures, including Clark Clifford, Stuart Symington, and Bert Lance were involved with the organization, that was dubbed the “Bank of Crooks and Criminals International.” As it happens, many of its insolvency problems were due to cultural differences, whereby in Pakistan credit worthiness was deemed not as important as social standing. Despite the huge failure of the bank, and all the fraud involved, founder Agha Hasan Abedi was protected to the end (he died in 1995) by the Pakistani government.