The Interpreter (2005)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2005 David N. Butterworth
*** (out of ****)

Another international accent from Kidman (Afrikaans?). Another brooding, broken man from Penn ("Mystic River"). And another taut, tense, political thriller from director Pollack (Sidney).

That's really all you need know about "The Interpreter." The rest is just filler, fodder. But I'm behooved to interpret more.

In this new film set in and around the United Nations Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, an interpreter who, on returning to the sound booth late one night, overhears a would-be assassination plot of a controversial world leader slated to give an upcoming U.N. speech. (She flips on the light momentarily, accidentally revealing her presence to the plotters hiding in the General Assembly Room below. She doesn't see them; she just hears them.)

The clandestine conversation she believes she heard is spoken in Ku, a rare South African dialect that only Silvia and some half dozen other Westerners understand, apparently.

That coincidence, that irony, is immediately brought to Silvia's attention by Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), the Secret Service agent seemingly assigned as her protector but one who turns out to be her investigator. The reason Silvia speaks Ku is that she grew up in Matobo, Africa. And with both her parents and sister killed by a land mine in that (fictional) country Silvia has more than a few personal and political reasons of her own for seeing speaker President Zuwanie "gone."

"You mean dead," clarifies Tobin. "No. I mean gone. If I interpreted "gone" for "dead" I'd have been out of a job a long time ago." (That's not an exact quote but it's close enough.)

Bottom line is Tobin doesn't believe Silvia's story and makes no bones about it from the very outset. "Of all the people involved in this thing the one with the shakiest history is you," he tells her. (That's not an exact quote either but it's also near enough.)

As Tobin's investigation continues and the dignitary's visit looms large the threats against Silvia's life increase, making for a twitchy, touchy potboiler

I like Kidman (yes; *clothed*) and I like Penn. And that Sydney Pollack, who occasionally puts in an appearance in his movies, whether it be a media strategist ("Random Hearts") or a struggling actor's agent ("Tootsie") or the man who makes a pass at Jane Fonda's character ("The Electric Horseman"), seems like a really nice guy, someone you might want to pick out a sweater for at Christmas time.

The film is well paced and Kidman and Penn exonerate themselves admirably. And the screenplay, more serviceable than inspirational, doesn't take the obvious path when developing the growing relationship between catty investigator and mousey interpreter (there's a particularly touching scene when she falls asleep in his arms).

There are, however, lots of swirling helicopter shots of the New York City skyline, lots of shots of people's feet as they hurry from their pursuers, and the not-so-subtle strains of James Newton Howard's swirling, hurrying score on the soundtrack. All these back a flavorful script that's ripe with intrigue, intelligence, and the occasional zinger (often deployed by Catherine Keener as Tobin's battle-weary partner Dot Woods).

Bottom line is I enjoyed "The Interpreter." I didn't need to and I didn't necessarily expect to but it's a decent, solid (if at times overly complicated) thriller made by people who clearly know what they're doing.

David N. Butterworth

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