Saturday, June 11, 2005
Movie Review: "The Interpreter"
Starring Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener and Sydney Pollack
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Taking full advantage of its opportunity to be the first film to ever get to film inside the United Nations building, "The Interpreter" works on a couple of levels – as an exciting thriller about a possible assassination attempt and a character examination of two wounded people looking for a way to move forward in their life.
Pairing Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn together for the first time, the movie generally avoids the clichés that tend to bog down some thrillers, particularly those with a political slant. That's not to say "The Interpreter" wears its politics on its sleeve, but with the presentation of the fictional African country of Matobo, there are several discussions weighing the effectiveness of diplomacy versus taking up arms.
Kidman plays Silvia Broome, an interpreter at the U.N., who believes she has overheard a discussion on an assassination attempt against Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), a controversial and largely despised dictator in Matobo. He plans to appear at the U.N. in a matter of days to defend his policies, at which time the incident is expected to take place. Silvia also believes her life is in danger, as she says she was seen while overhearing the conversation.
Enter Secret Service agents Tobin Keller (Penn) and Dot Woods (Catherine Keener), who are assigned to the case. However, upon their initial meeting, Silvia quickly surmises that the agents' top priority is stopping the assassination attempt; her safety is a secondary concern.
For that matter, Keller is skeptical of Silvia's believability, even following an inconclusive lie detector test. He discovers she used to live in Matobo and has some dark secrets involving her family there. Her clear dislike for Zuwamie and his policies seem to strengthen Keller's suspicions.
But as the case develops, Keller and Silvia begin to build up some trust in one another. Both characters come off as a bit cold and reserved, with reasons for this explained as the movie proceeds. Penn and Kidman are both intelligent actors who do a good job here at staying in character, avoiding the temptation to overplay their scenes amidst the tension. The two have numerous scenes together, just the two of them, as their characters find a common bond of tragic loss.
Director Sydney Pollack carefully ratchets up the tension as the movie progresses, having the action unfold naturally through the characters' actions, such as a great sequence interspersing activity on a city bus with Keller and Woods' discovery at a New York City apartment. And while it typically seems a prerequisite for thrillers, "The Interpreter" thankfully avoids a budding romance between its two leads. There does seem to be an apparent attraction between the characters, but it's also clear that Silvia and Keller have too much emotional baggage to go down that road.
As the movie churns towards its conclusion, so many characters become involved that it makes it difficult to keep track of all the story developments. Plus, the climax of the film is a bit too drawn out to maintain its effectiveness. Still, Kidman and Penn have crafted their characters well enough by this point that it's easier to overlook that shortcoming. You're not exactly sure what path their characters will take when the final credits roll, but you do know they're in a better place than when they first met.
(Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexual content and brief strong language.)