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Interpreter, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Check the temperature in Hell-Sydney Pollack has made a good movie."
4 stars

Almost two-thirds of the way through the new thriller “The Interpreter,” there is an extended sequence that packs more thrills, tension, humor, suspense and shocks in approximately fifteen minutes of screen time than most other thrillers can muster in their entirety. It is such a standout set-piece, in fact, that it runs the risk of overshadowing the rest of the film because there is no way that anyone, with the possible exception of Alfred Hitchcock or Brian DePalma at the top of their respective games, could hope to top the excitement it generates. However, while the last third may seem like a bit of a letdown by comparison, the film doesn’t suffer too greatly because, while flawed, it is a slick and efficient bit of entertainment that gets the job done without insulting the intelligence of the audience too badly.

The set-up is pure Hitchcock and even features, in the presence of Nicole Kidman, the kind of cool and mysterious beauty that he would have given his eyeteeth to work with. Here, she is Silvia Broome, a white South African working at the United Nations as an interpreter. After the building is evacuated after a faulty metal detector is discovered, she returns to her office late at night to retrieve her bag and overhears a whispered conversation spoken in an obscure tribal dialect that she, and precious few others, is able to understand. Although not sure, it sounds to her as if the speakers are discussing a potential assassination plot against General Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), the ruthless president of the country of Matobo, who is planning to address the U.N. in a few days in order to stave off a potential trial before the I.C.C. on charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing. <

The Secret Service is called in and the lead investigator, Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), has his suspicions about Silvia’s claims–he finds it highly unlikely that she would have just happened to overhear such a conversation in such an obscure dialect about such a potentially devastating topic. Nevertheless, Keller cannot prove that she is lying (her lie detector tests show that she is under stress during every question) and he and partner Woods (Catherine Keener) decide to use her as bait to flush out the possible assassin while investigating her own history further. As it transpires, there does appear to be people following her around but Keller also discovers that Silvia’s parents and sister were killed by a land mine planted by Zuwanie’s men and photos turn up showing her at an anti-Zuwanie rally in her homeland. Silvia claims to be beyond petty revenge–she professes a belief in the goals of the United Nations and refers to vengeance as “a lazy form of grief.” The lives of Silvia, Zuwanie and many others will depend, of course, on whether or not Keller believes those words.<

“The Interpreter” has been directed by Sydney Pollack, who seems to have belatedly realized, after the disasters of “Havana,” “Sabrina” and “Random Hearts,” that he is at his best when he is directing thrillers that are too ridiculously plotted to be believable in a manner that allows them to seem relatively plausible while you are watching them–among his excursions in the genre are such works as “The Yakuza,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Firm.” Simply put, this is the best and most energetic work that he has done in a long time–at least since 1982's “Tootsie”–and while it may go on a little too long for its own good, most of the fat that has dragged down too many of his recent efforts is gone here. (Pollack also turns in a nice supporting turn as Penn’s boss for good measure.)<

What flaws there are in the film are the result of some of the more overtly goofy machinations in the screenplay by Charles Randolph and Scott Frank and Steve Zaillian–without getting into too many details, the developments in the final reel are just a bit too much to swallow. Additionally, there is something vaguely offensive about the notion of making a film in which African genocide is a key plot point and yet casting a white woman in the lead role. This is not to say that Kidman isn’t good in the part–she maintains an effective balance between seeming helpless, mysterious and dangerous at any given moment–but there is the nagging suspicion that she was cast because there are precious few black actresses (outside of Halle Berry, who simply would have been miscast here) that could offer the marquee value that Kidman can. (As for the other lead performances, Penn is strong and sure a a dogged agent working through his own personal traumas and Catherine Keener all but steals the film with her extra-dry line readings as his cynical partner.)

“The Interpreter” may not be a classic political thriller, but it is an uncommonly intelligent and well-made one that relies on smart dialogue and strong performances to grab the audiences attention instead of ludicrous plot twists and noisy action scenes. And when it does shift into pure kinetic filmmaking as it does in that sequence that I mentioned above, it does so with such grace and ease that you won’t even realize how effectively Pollack has pulled all the pieces together until he brings it to its stunning climax–when he does, you won’t know whether to be shocked by its impact or be simply delighted with the manner in which he brought it all together. For a chance to see a sequence like that, I would be willing to forgive plenty of missteps; happily, “The Interpreter” is good enough that it didn’t force me to do that too often.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11930&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/22/05 08:19:51
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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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