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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.98%
Worth A Look46.51%
Just Average: 29.07%
Pretty Crappy: 9.3%
Sucks: 8.14%

8 reviews, 38 user ratings

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Interpreter, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A beach novel movie."
4 stars

There's some grade-A talent on The Interpreter. Nicole Kidman is a movie star with enough talent to deserve the title; Sean Penn is one of the best actors working today. Sydney Pollack is behind the camera, and he's a craftsman who tends to go too long between films. And though some of the names of the writers may not be familiar, Scott Frank (Dead Again, Minority Report, Out of Sight) and Steven Zallian (Schindler's List, Clear and Present Danger) are among the best in the business, especially for movies of this type. Put them all together, and you get the filmic equivalent of a beach novel: A smart, well-executed thriller that compels the audience to take it seriously despite ingredients that often form the basis of easily-dismissed movies.

The plot involves Silvia Broome (Kidman), a United Nations interpreter, overhearing some information that seems to point to an upcoming assassination attempt. Tobin Keller (Penn), the Secret Service agent assigned to investigate, is initially suspicious because there's no other intelligence to indicate it, and it very quickly appears that Ms. Broome has a personal connection to the likely suspects and a partisan interest in the target: She grew up in the African country that the tyrant in question rules, and her parents were killed in the fighting. There's probably something going on, since it wouldn't make sense for her to come to the authorities if she were trying to kill him, but her reluctance to provide details is vexing.

The story is well-plotted, complex without being needlessly complicated. There are three or four different factions in play, each potentially allied or using the others, but the script and Pollack's direction keeps them clear. One of the reasons that this kind of political thriller often works better as a book than as a motion picture is that books are better at delivering facts than films are; film has to use often-awkward expository dialog and then guess when the audience will need it reinforced. That Pollack makes it all work is no small feat. He also shows a deft hand with the action sequences, using the threat of violence to generate tension and the results to generate horror and sadness.

The understated performances, as you might expect from this cast, are very good. Both Kidman and Penn have done flashier work and meatier roles, but there's nothing to indicate that they're just picking up paychecks here. They make their characters into believable individuals, although they get some occasionally awkward assistance from the script - Keller, for instance, has a recently deceased wife who sometimes seems to exist for no reason other than that if she didn't, the movie would be wasting Sean Penn on an almost completely procedural role (but now we can see him struggle with his grief). It's not just the leads who are good, though - even the smaller characters come off as well rounded. Indeed, Earl Cameron (as General Zuwanie, the visiting Matoban leader) is a fascinating presence when he appears in the film's last act.

One of the most refreshing things Pollack and the actors do is to recognize that men and women can have chemistry in ways other than the romantic or sexual. Kidman and Penn are great to watch together, even if they never seem particularly attracted to each other for much of the movie. They respect each others' intelligence, and by the last act, they clearly like each other, but you're not supposed to want them to kiss by the end. Similarly, Catherine Keener plays Keller's partner, and it's fun to see a woman play the gruff cop quietly worried about her partner's well-being. There's history and friendship between the two of them, and I love the look of disapproval Keener's Dot Woods gets on her face when she thinks Silvia is playing on her partner's feelings.

I worry that The Interpreter may be on too realistic a scale for an audience used to gigantic set-pieces, threats to the entire free world, and star-crossed lovers in the middle of every crisis. This story is about a threat to the repugnant leader of a made-up African nation. Sure, one can explain intellectually that every nation at risk in a movie thriller is fictional in a way, even if they're named "the United States" and are populated by people who talk and act like Americans, but people don't think that way. The Interpreter is a smart thriller, and the filmmakers create a lot of tension in individual sequences, but it sometimes stops just short of the visceral level of excitement that other, admittedly lesser, movies can hit.

That's not to say all the talent mentioned in this review's first paragraph is squandered; far from it. They've made a movie that is well above serviceable, and one which I can easily recommend. It has all the importance and staying power of a novel you take to the beach, but that's fine. Intelligent escapism is what these things are for, after all.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11930&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/03/05 20:49:48
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User Comments

6/26/18 morris campbell good movie 4 stars
12/04/11 Pamela White Good intellectual thriller 4 stars
5/10/11 Chris. Poor acting, poor storytelling, too long, why do people like this 2 stars
11/23/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
3/16/08 mr.mike Has all the nail-biting suspense of....an episode of "Hunter". 2 stars
12/16/07 Jason Boring. 1 stars
1/31/07 Matt Kidman is horribly miscast in an implausible movie. Nothing here worth giving a shit about 2 stars
8/07/06 missy Le Peaux riveting 5 stars
6/21/06 drydock54321 just ok . 3 stars
4/14/06 Steve Newman Excellent film - really enjoyable Apr 06 5 stars
2/03/06 Indrid Cold Plenty of attention to the humanity of it all, but it isn't thrilling, or even interesting. 3 stars
1/03/06 Piz far fetched and wacky but kept my interest 4 stars
12/25/05 R.W.Welch It ain't Manchurian Candidate, but a pro piece of work overall. 4 stars
11/26/05 KCobain Really bad and way too long. 2 stars
10/21/05 Phil M. Aficionado Despite Penn, any occasional brushes with reality are strictly coincidental 3 stars
10/19/05 Agent Sands Another anticipated big event that's forgotten completely. Keener is a highlight. 4 stars
10/11/05 ad cheesy, unconvincing and not innovative at all 2 stars
10/09/05 Monday Morning Slow & boring. Another nail in Hollywood's coffin. Many TV shows now surpass movies. 2 stars
7/25/05 Tim Kidman and Penn have NOOOO chemistry 2 stars
7/05/05 Frances Smeath Slowness and boredom is sometimes in beholders not in what they behold. 5 stars
6/29/05 Mark Murphy great thriller 4 stars
6/18/05 aldo Talk...Talk...talk....Talk....Talk.....Bang...Talk...talk...talk...Zzzz..zzz 1 stars
6/10/05 Captain Craig No Academy Award here, but entertaining.You will like it better if you get in half price! 3 stars
6/06/05 Helen Bradley Very slow paced, Kidman and Penn while good actors have some poor dialogue to work through 1 stars
5/14/05 jcjs ho hum especiall after 'Kingdom of Heaven' 3 stars
5/12/05 Mark Thomas Painfully nauseating with horrendous racial overtones 1 stars
5/09/05 Carol It was okay 3 stars
5/08/05 jeff set ur alarm clock for 2:08 1 stars
5/01/05 Heather edge of seat thriller but watch out for plot holes 5 stars
4/30/05 alandala about as exciting and fun as watching grass grow 1 stars
4/27/05 Titus That makes two watchable movies for the year. Good, but not special. 4 stars
4/26/05 brody more ass taste than the olive garden 1 stars
4/25/05 Jeff Anderson A very intelligent & gripping thriller. Penn, Kidman & Keener(my favorite) are OUTSTANDING! 5 stars
4/24/05 Obi Wan Wow, best Thriller in a very long time. Actually had me at the edge of my seat! 5 stars
4/22/05 Sergio Better than Pollack's later films, but it ain't no The Yakuza 3 stars
4/19/05 Philip Buckley-Mellor Better than average story/direction/acting, but excellent photography and editing 4 stars
4/18/05 John Bale Sophisticated political thriller in the Hitchcock mold, with significance in the real world 4 stars
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  22-Apr-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Oct-2005



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