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'The International' Shoots at Banking Industry, Scores $10 Million Opening Weekend

With so much populist outrage at bankers and other corporate types these days, Hollywood is predictably trying to capitalize on it (TNT’s “Leverage” is just one example.) “The International,” from Relativity Media was just the latest to hit theaters with its Feb. 13 opening.

In “The International,” the executives of the fictional International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) aren’t just crooked, they willingly hire assassins – the executives call them “consultants” – to get rid of anyone about to expose their crimes. The protagonists are Louis Salinger, an Interpol agent played by Clive Owen, and Eleanor Whitman, a Manhattan District Attorney played by Naomi Watts.

Owen made the morning talk show rounds hitting CBS “Early Show” Feb. 11 and ABC’s “The View” on Feb. 13. In both cases, the hosts sought to find out if this story was grounded in reality.

“This is based roughly on a true story,” CBS’s Harry Smith queried. Owen replied that the script was “well-researched” and “well-informed.” Owen’s comments on “The View” were similar, but at least on ABC the actor admitted that the script was in fact “fictional.”

“Now this movie, it really shows you that banks are terrorists in many ways, you know. I mean they do the same things to people in this movie that real terrorists groups like al-Qaida would do. Is this based on fact?” Joy Behar asked Owen.

The actor’s response: “Um, it was very well-researched. It’s a very, sort of, well-researched script. It’s actually a fictional script but it is based on cases where they’ve found corruption within big banks, you know.”

Neither of the show’s interviewers asked what bank scandal was referenced in the film, but A. O. Scott’s New York Times review of the movie dug that up saying the acronym IBBC “echo[ed] the name of a real bank involved in a big scandal back in the 1990s.”

That bank would be BCCI – the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

According to A New York Times book review in 1993, “the B.C.C.I. developments are very near impossible to grasp, involving as they do 76 countries and an unlikely cast of characters that includes the Shah of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega of Panama and the Arab terrorist Abu Nidal. To say nothing of drug smuggling, money laundering, illegal arms dealing …” You get the picture.

But without the historical explanation, viewers of both talk shows and of “The International” were left wondering if there are global banks in the world controlling arms deals, financing terrorism and willing to send a heavily armed hit team into the Guggenheim Museum to very publicly knock off one of its own “consultants” and an Interpol agent.

No one challenged the negative portrayal of businessmen in either interview or provided any assurances that not all “banks are terrorists;” in fact the ladies of “The View” were more concerned with whether or not Owen considers himself a “sex symbol.”

“The International” has many villains, but one executive tries to redeem himself in the end. Tired of the crimes his company has committed, Wilhelm Wexler turns against the IBBC after Salinger and Whitman catch him. Salinger turns Wexler by reminding him of Wexler’s devoted communist roots and hatred of capitalism.

Of course, capitalism’s probably not so evil that Relativity Media is feeling guilty about the $10 million (seventh place) the film took its first weekend at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo.

The Business & Media Institute examined Hollywood’s anti-business perspective before and found that there was only one ethical businessman (out of more than 70) in the 16 films that earned Oscar nominations in 2005.