Tom Twyker’s smart, well-paced espionage thriller, scripted by Eric Singer, is by no means a perfect film. But it’s the first to have wed the geopolitical worldview of LeCarre with the scathing analysis of international finance performed by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. “The value of a conflict,” an Italian political candidate informs the hero (and the audience) shortly before he is assassinated, “is in the debt that it produces.” This is Klein’s theory of disaster capitalism in a nutshell. Political crises are no longer solely manufactured for purposes of regime change, but in order to enrich banks and investors. Of course, Klein’s take down of the Chicago School and how it was played out in Chile and the UK is considerably more nuanced, but the film gets points for gesturing in this direction.
The extraordinary set-piece that dominates the close of the second act – a vertiginous shoot-out along the winding ramps of the Guggenheim Museum – is an act of audacious vandalism. Bullets spray, bodies dive, spectators crouch in terror while glass art installations shatter and fall through the rotunda’s spiral well. The effect is one of playful destruction: a mockery of high culture values and pretensions and of the museum as a site of privileged voyeurism – not at all unlike a movie theater. What the melee destroys is not so much “priceless” works of art – those hallmarks of unique genius – as the economy of exchange that governs the art world’s marketplace values and dictates our habits for consuming them.
The futility of the ending, embodied in Clive Owen’s exhausted state of unshaven dishevelment, is that the System cannot be brought to heel. Individuals can suffer street justice, but they will only be replaced by others, just as ruthlessly dedicated to the bottom line. As Jameson, Arrighi and Harvey have dismally noted: the totality of world capital has become a kind of self-replicating nanotechnology: a planet-eater, in sci-fi terms. Only the planet in question is not material substrate, but the living biosphere of human labor and human suffering.