The Interpreter

© 2004 Ray Wong

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Jesper Christensen, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron, George Harris, Michael Wright, Clyde Kusatsu, Eric Keeleyside, Hugo Speer
Director: Sydney Pollack
Writers: Martin Stellman, Brian Ward, Charles Randolph, Scott Frank, Steven Zaillian
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, brief sexual content and language
Running time: 112 minutes

Script – 7
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total Score – 7.8 out of 10

The INTERPRETER is one of the most anticipated films of spring, 2005, and there are plenty of good reasons. The two leading actors, both recent Oscar winners. The Oscar-winning director (OUT OF AFRICA). The first big budget thriller to hit the screen in a drought year so far. The expectation and anticipation put the film in a vulnerable position. But judging by the reactions at the packed theater, I believe it delivers.

Silvia Broom (Kidman), an attractive United Nations interpreter, overhears a whispered conversation indicating an assassination attempt of Matobo President Zuwanie. Secret service agent, newly widowed Tobin Keller (Penn), together with his colleagues, is assigned to the case. At first, Keller’s instinct tells him Broom is lying – she has a dark secret and she’s not letting it on. He thinks the whole assassination threat is a hoax. But when Silvia’s life is being threatened, Keller has no choice but believe her. He becomes her protector.

Soon Keller finds out Silvia was romantically involved with Rory Robb, a Matobo revolutionary, and was part of the rebel, albeit a long time ago. When Kuman-Kuman, another Matobo revolutionary in exile in Brooklyn, is killed in a terrorist attack, the stakes to protect both Silvia and Zuwanie become very high. Racing against the clock, they must find out who is behind the assassination, and solve the mystery around Silvia’s past.

Kidman (COLD MOUNTAIN) has emerged as one of the best and most mesmerizing actresses of our time. Here, her performance is understated, vulnerable and secretive. Without overacting, she conveys layers of emotions buried deep under Silvia’s mysterious shell. Likewise, Penn (MYSTIC RIVER) gives us a restrained, well-controlled and deeply sympathetic portrayal of a complex man caught between rage and righteousness. He and Kidman share some of their most intimate yet intense moments in deep philosophical discussions. Something you don’t see in a lot of thrillers.

Keener (S1M0NE) is great in her relatively minor role as agent Dot Woods. She is cool and sympathetic, and she delivers most of the film’s best zingers. She almost steals the show from the two leads whenever she’s on. The international cast includes Danish actor Christensen, who portrays Nils Lud, Matobo’s Head of Security, with steely creepiness – yet that’s probably one of the worst flaws of the film (more later); Israeli actor Attal as the doomed photographer Philippe; Cameron (REVELATION) as the idealist-turned-war lord Zuwanie; West Indies actor Harris (BLACK HAWK DOWN) as the charismatic Kuman-Kuman.

The writers have done an admirable job concocting a suspenseful thriller out of a yarn of mangled subplots. As the story unfolds, we get to learn more and more about these characters, and the secrets they are hiding from each other. At times, it gets a little tedious trying to keep track of the large cast and what goes on. But the writers manage to keep the pace tight and the suspense taut. They also manage to keep the main story thread simplistic. There are some plot holes, however, or at least some things that need more explaining. And to me, at least, I feel that the ending is somewhat a letdown and predictable. The casting of Christensen as Nils pretty much gives the ending away, and there are many foreshadowing and hints to help the audience along. It’s probably not a complete disaster, when you consider the main thrust of the story is the relationship between Silvia and Keller. However, the ending could have been more suspenseful and tense if the writers had chosen a different path.

Director Pollack (THE FIRM) is no stranger to nail-biting thrillers and sweeping dramas. Here, he has succeeded in combining the two genres into a thought-provoking political thriller. He also did something no one else could – this is the first film ever allowed to be shot inside the U.N. The real location adds a biting realism. Pollack (who also has a small role as Tobin’s boss) has the mature skills and a sharp eye for details, pacing, and suspense. The film has an uncanny, realistic look and feel to it. At times, it’s intensely intimate and personal. It is this particular quality that sets the film apart from the other thrillers. And a darn good one, too – it’s hard to interpret it any other way.

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