Written by: Charles Randolph, Scott Frank,
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine
Keener, Jesper Christensen, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron, George
It’s been a long time. For the last 12 or 13 years, Sydney
Pollack, one of America’s finest directors, has languished
in the doldrums of romantic-cliché hell, from Sabrina,
an ill-fated remake of an Audrey Hepburn classic,
followed by Random Hearts, a lifeless drama which made
Harrison Ford look foolish twice. Here, with The
Interpreter, Pollack returns to top form with an excellent
drama which evokes the mysterious intelligence of the great ’70s
political thrillers, Three Days of the Condor (also directed
by Pollack), The Parallax View, and All the President’s
Men. Not since 1993’s underrated, nail-biting gem The
Firm has Pollack given American audiences a reason to hold
their collective breath. Pollack has assembled a remarkable cast
led by two of the most gifted actors of their generation. Nicole
Kidman plays Silvia Broome, a former anti-Zuwanie activist who has
moved from her home in Motobo, Africa (a fictitious country) to
become an interpreter for the United Nations. Broome’s parents
and sister were killed by a landmine when she was a young girl,
and she wears the sorrow of their passing on her well-tailored sleeve.
Penn, too, has suffered a tragic loss, and the
two heavy-hearted loners are brought together under bizarre circumstances
when Broome overhears an assassination plot at the UN. At first,
Penn and Kidman seem like an unlikely pairing, but as the film and
its layers of mystery are peeled away, their chemistry grows in
intensity, ultimately producing a satisfying brew of desire and
Penn is the gloomy Secret Service agent Tobin Keller,
assigned first to interrogate Broome, then to protect
her. The emotional resonance of Penn’s performance is
an increasingly rare commodity in big-budget Hollywood
films. The lines of his tortured face are
extraordinarily well-drawn and the cracks in the tenor
of his raspy voice simply heartbreaking. The
presence of Penn, who has purposefully avoided making
big-budget Hollywood films, is a testament to
Pollack’s reputation and power; and rarely has this
supremely gifted performer been more effective,
despite the inherent limitations of the thriller
All of the supporting characters enrich the film as well—from
the dry, witty presence of Catherine Keener as
Penn’s Secret Service sidekick, to the despotic blue-eyed
veteran Earl Cameron as the Motoban Prime Minister
Edmond Zuwanie (a thinly disguised version of Zimbabwe’s disgraced
leader Robert Mugabe).With thoughtful attention
to detail, the film is beautifully photographed by the gifted cinematographer
Darius Khondji, best known for the moody, dark
palette of Se7en. Khondji brings the UN building
to life, and its presence as a major character in the film adds
yet another layer to this thriller’s luster. For the first
time in its history, the United Nations, with the endorsement of
no less than Kofi Annan, allowed a film crew to
shoot inside its hallowed walls. Not even Alfred Hitchcock
could convince the UN to let Cary Grant run for
his life through its vaulted corridors in the 1959 classic North
by Northwest. Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s
List) and Scott Frank (Get Shorty),
two of Hollywood’s more celebrated screenwriters, collaborate
to fashion a story pulsating with tension, brooding with mystery.
Thankfully, it is never overwhelmed by repetitive car chases, explosions,
or exploitative violence, so often the trademark of a Hollywood
thriller these days. The film does, however, deliver an occasional
plot hole with a few clichés tossed in here and there (the
final confrontation with Zuwanie comes to mind); but as an entertaining,
informative piece of filmmaking, it succeeds on nearly every level.
This is a mature, elegant film about international politics, diplomacy
(for better or worse), and the machinations of powerful governments
and their elected leaders. It is also a film about the corruption
of ideals and the loss of faith. It goes without saying that mass
audiences are unaccustomed to learning anything of importance when
they settle down in a darkened theater with their popcorn and sodas.
With The Interpreter, Pollack and his crew of actors and
artists ensure that this game of cat and mouse is much more than
that—it is a thinking person’s film filled with heart
—Tiffany Crouch Bartlett
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
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