CD Review: The International

By • February 16, 2009

Composer” Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil
Label: Varese Sarabande
Suggested Retail Price: $17.98
Grade: A

If you thought it was only John Powell who changed the pace of Hollywood’s action scores, then you haven’t checked the pulse rates of German composers Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil and their filmmaking band mate Tom Tykwer. It was a decade ago that they gave musical mileage to RUN LOLA RUN, co-opting the popular techno groove for a soundtrack that played suspense as the ultimate rave. When Tykwer’s movies reduced speed for THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR and PERFUME, his “Pale 3” group expanded their sound with an orchestra, showing they could slow their melodic heartbeat to a tense jog, or even a sinister walk. Yet no matter the speed, the relentless rhythm always let the listener know that a burst of action adrenalin was on the way.

Klimek and Heil parlayed this unmistakable house style for their own memorable scores, which have included TANGLED, ONE HOUR PHOTO and SOPHIE SCHOLL. Now after having gone out on a brilliantly stylistic limb with their work for Tykwer’s underappreciated PERFUME, the trio has re-united, and kind of settled down for the director’s most “Hollywood” film yet. But just because its globe-trotting might be a bit in the BOURNE tradition, THE INTERNATIONAL is a subtler, brainier animal- that is if Jason Bourne was the ultimate auditor, and your idea of subtlety is shredding the Guggenheim. In any case, don’t think that THE INTERNATIONAL’s score is pulsating in a familiar rut, as Tykwer, Klimek and Heil once again show how percussion-fueled soundtracks can sound as fresh as a morning run.

Where LOLA barely stopped for a breath, the considered, “thinking-man’s” pace of THE INTERNATIONAL calls for long valleys and rapid-fire peaks from the score as its complex plot unwinds. A brace-wearing killer is stalked across two continents, photos are shuffled, IM’s are sent and double-talk code accompanies the S.P.E.C.T.R.E-like villains’ plans for world domination. Despite the movie’s plot intrigue and smart dialogue, all of this might still come across as a bit boring if it weren’t for a score that was constantly doing something, even imperceptibly. Thankfully, these are guys who know how to pour on that kind of musical glue. Like John Ottman’s similarly excellent work for VALKYRIE, THE INTERNATIONAL is a textbook example in Conspiracy Scoring, even if the approach here is more consciously melodic. The music seemingly never shuts off as it sends us to the final dramatic payoff. But it’s also never intrusive or boring, even if less is more this time around for the trio.

If Tykwer, Klimek and Heil’s approach has a musical ancestry, then it would be found with their fellow Teutons Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann. As the original members of Tangerine Dream, these technical wizards would hit the sequencer, and add such goodies as rock guitar, brass and voices until a hypnotic wash of sound was created. These three do likewise, spicing up their cues’ various rhythms with piano hits, echoed rock guitars, drums and simmering, if urgent themes. It’s a technically slick sound that’s belongs to Pale 3 as much as a fan could instantly label a Tangerine Dream score after a few beats. Yet Tykwer, Klimek and Heil have consciously stripped down their overdubs for THE INTERNATIONAL, creating a sound that lacks much warmth, but is no less the mesmerizing or melodic for it. It’s a sound whose emotion has the dark sleekness of bankers with human life to burn, sucking the hero’s humanity out in their pursuit of almighty debt.

All of this isn’t to say that THE INTERNATIONAL doesn’t rock out, especially in such cues as “The Calvini Hit” and “Tailing the Consultant,” where an assassination theme comes to the fore with pounding drums and eerie sustains. It’s a warm-up to “The Guggenheim Shootout,” as those ghostly string pauses and gigantic hits build up to the point where you know the shit is going to hit the fan. And then it’s go time with guitar chords and pitter-patter percussion- music that’s so effective because it doesn’t try to outgun what’s happening on screen. Instead, the composers support it by weaving around the bullets with Neo-like skill, knowing when to really jump in as the heroes get off their shots, the pitch rising with their desperation against impossible odds. It’s a combination of music and imagery that results in one of the most spectacular shoot-outs yet seen in a movie.

As elegant in its relentless drive as RUN LOLA RUN was frantically thrilling, THE INTERNATIONAL marks another sleek step forward for Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil. Where familiarity has made beat scores of this sort into a bit of a slog, the trio shows how the ride they can run in new, sleek directions without skimping on the hair-raising twists and turns.

Get good value with THE INTERNATIONAL here

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