The International: Shish Kabob

Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brian O’Byrne
(R, 118 min.)

"One man with courage makes a majority." Andrew Jackson

Clive Owen and Naomi Watts are almost as unrelenting and ruthless as our Congress in going after big banks, but the titular lending institution of this film makes predatory lending sound like a child’s game. And it’s not the mortgages that are toxic, but the actual investigators themselves, when they get too close to the truth. One had better think twice before defaulting on any loans.

Take unscrupulous curmudgeon Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, whisk him out of that wheel chair and loose him on the world. Yes, he’d hardly be recognizable as the svelte sophisticate Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen) who runs the Machiavellian operations of the International Bank of Business and Credit, but the rapacious malevolence is about the same. Except, of course, Lionel Barrymore’s Potter seems to get more of a kick out of his machinations, while Skarssen takes his dealings with African dictators, small arms dealers, and contract assassins as just more tedious entries in his day planner.

Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) isn’t having a particularly good time either. Just as his partner is on the verge of coaxing a highly placed IBBC whistleblower into spilling his guts, the partner falls over dead of an apparent heart attack. It doesn’t help matters that Salinger is painfully ricocheted off a passing a truck as he skits across the street to get to him, but it’s a welcome touch of reality. Those careening runs through oncoming traffic with nary a scratch have gotten a bit old, haven’t they?

We also have reality in the bureaucratic dithering that bogs Salinger down every time he gets close to flushing his quarry. A small needle prick suggests his partner’s assassination, but the autopsy is inconclusive – one of those sly hard to trace poisons. Even the whistle blower’s identity is not known, but Salinger identifies him shortly, right after his body washes up on shore.

Salinger, now assisted by Manhattan DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), uses Agatha Christie / Conan Doyle finesse ferreting through airline schedules to blow an alibi, but the IBBC tentacles reach far and wide, and all it takes is a rewrite of the police report to dead end that lead. The same tenacious style gets the two to another lead, an aspiring Italian politician, as handsome as he is scrupulous. Unfortunately, his scruples are undervalued by the IBBC, who are rather ruthless in closing down his account, if you get my drift.

With the defectors’ ranks rapidly thinning, Salinger and Whitman concentrate on the bank’s “consultant” (Brian O’Byrne), whose area of expertise is mathematical in nature, if one assumes the numerical accumulation of dead bodies to be in that realm. The sniper does have a certain interest in art, though, especially canvases depicting suffering, and he usually arranges to meet his handler in front of designated paintings. One such assignation occurs at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a tower of white columns and glass displaying in this case a series of large screens with fleeting images parading across them – what our betters tell us is art.

Thus, the bloody shoot our here is doubly enjoyable. Pretentious art is decimated along with a bevy of bad boys, although I am rather fond of Wright’s work and was gratified to learn the whole sequence was filmed in giant mock up inside of Germany.

The handler, Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl) brings forth the same complex mix of humanity he did as the Russian restaurateur in Eastern Promises, this time with a stab of reflection and regret ebbing up from his trail of corpses. Somehow Salinger cannot understand his alliance with these capitalist raiders, given Wexler’s “ideals” as a committed communist from former East Germany. Wexler doesn’t even try to answer, but it is the question itself that is revealing, not so much of Salinger, but of the anti capitalist mood of Hollywood and perhaps the world in general, that the relic of a police state would be considered an idealist. (For a closer look at that “communist ideal,” see The Lives of Others.)

The International lives up to its title, taking us on a brisk tour of Berlin, Lyon, Milan, New York, and Istanbul, kind of like The Bourne Ultimatum without the frenetic pace and shaky camera work. It is a solid thriller tied a bit more securely to vexing reality, which will either please or frustrate the viewer, probably along lines of age and gender. 

No matter. You will never think about applying for a loan in the same way ever again.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

The climax of this thriller occurs in the colorful streets of Istanbul, from the beauty of an imperial palace to the crowded market, where vendors hawk everything from copper urns to hand-ground spices. The chase extends to the clay tile rooftops where the evil banker must balance his books with the intrepid Interpol agent.

All of which certainly does work up a healthy appetite. A quick trip back to the bazaar would yield all the simple ingredients for this delicious, spicy lamb shish kabob.


Shish Kabob 


  • 2 lbs lamb fillet, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 green peppers
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 2 onions

 For the marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (or more if desired, depending on how spicy you desire)
  • pinch of ground red pepper or cayenne


Up to 24 hours prior to grilling, combine marinade ingredients and pour into freezer bag. Place lamb cubes in marinade and refrigerate until ready to grill. Be sure all pieces of lamb are covered with marinade.

Prepare vegetables. Wash and dry veggies. Cut green peppers and onions into 1 inch chunks. Set aside.

Prepare skewers by spraying a light coat of cooking oil to prevent sticking. Place lamb and vegetables on skewers. Grill spicy lamb kebabs for about 5-7 minutes on each side or until desired doneness.

Recipe Source: Home Cooking