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In the cat-and-mouse thriller The International (2009), Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) travels the world trying to bring down a corrupt European bank, with nearly everyone who cooperates with him dying under mysterious circumstances. In the legal thriller The Firm (1993), based on John Grisham’s best seller, Tom Cruise plays an idealistic young lawyer who tries to bring down his corrupt firm. Which of these two films about killer companies should you hunt down?
The All-powerful and Evil Corporation
The International: The International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) is one of the world’s most powerful banks — a favorite for terrorist organizations and dictators seeking money. It’s effective at wiping out critics.
The Firm: Bendini, Lambert & Locke is a small but prestigious Memphis tax law firm with a big client: the Morolto crime family. Any employee who dares question the family’s dealings is quickly disposed of.
The Winner: A tie. Each corporation is the perfect villain for its era — lawyers played the same bogeyman role in the ’90s as bankers are doing today.
The Creepy, Nameless Assassin
The International: For most of its killings, the IBBC uses the “consultant” (Brian F. O’Byrne), a quiet hit man with a devastating aim and an unnatural ability to hide in plain sight.
The Firm: Bendini, Lambert & Locke uses the “Nordic man” (Tobin Bell), a pale, quiet thug with unfashionably long blond hair who can be spotted from a mile away.
The Winner: The International. There’s something genuinely unsettling about the unassuming about the consultant, whereas Nordic man looks like he just stepped out of a Die Hard sequel.
The Old-timer Who’s Had Enough
The International: Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is one of the IBBC’s head honchos, but he’s also a former Stasi agent. A crisis of conscience prompts him to turn on his organization.
The Firm: Mitch’s mentor, Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman), is a partner at the firm who’s been broken by years of corruption, cheating, and boozing. In the end, he helps Mitch’s wife, Abby, escape the firm’s thugs.
The Winner: The Firm. No one plays a weathered, disillusioned old boy like Gene Hackman.
Turning the Mob on the Bad Guys
The International: In an effort to bring IBBC to some kind of rough justice, Salinger ropes in the Calvini brothers, two young Italian arms dealers whose powerful father was assassinated by the bank.
The Firm: In an effort to implicate Bendini, Lambert & Locke — and to save his own skin — Mitch goes to the heads of the Morolto crime family and gets their permission to disclose the firm’s unethical billing practices.
The Winner: Neither. This is a dumb plot twist in both films.
The International: It may want to be an action movie for the thinking man, but it’s actually a good example of how a paint-by-numbers plot can be enlivened by stylish direction.
The Firm: It doesn’t quite have the novel’s immersion in the law, but it’s still smarter than your average Grisham adaptation.
The Winner: The International. Both films have their moments, but we’re suckers for a globe-trotting thriller.