|The Interpreter (2005)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn
Director: Sydney Pollack
After initially hearing the premise for “The Interpreter,” I could only think of the numberless so-called “political thrillers” that Hollywood had obtrusively manufactured over the past decade - including the most recent remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” – but I was certainly open for reinterpretation. And then I heard that the film would be starring Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman (arguably two of the finest actors in the history of American film) and directed by legendary film icon Sydney Pollack. “The Interpreter” is by no means a thriller, but it was a pleasant surprise to see a mostly-intellectual script about international politics get green lit into a big-budget production.
The world never seems to escape peril, and where there is an imminent international threat, the US is always there, but you’ll be happy to know that the United “me first” States is no more than the backdrop of the story, where U.N. translator Silvia Broome (Kidman) overhears a secret plot to assassinate an African dignitary during his upcoming visit to the U.N. There is no major influence from the American government, until the Secret Service is assigned to the task of investigating the interpreter’s claim, with Special Agent Tobin Keller (Penn) leading the pack. But after digging deeper into Silvia’s rebellious African past, Keller discovers that she may just be the biggest suspect behind the whole convoluted plot.
The main problem with a majority of these “political thrillers” that have been churned out of Hollywood lately is that they’re neither thrilling, nor risky in their discussions of the politics of the world. When it comes to film, Hollywood typically prefers to wash its hands clean of any political specificities (especially when dealing with international communities), but “The Interpreter” quickly changes that with a smart and mature throwback to the old Hitchcockian thrillers of the ‘70s that most adults should enjoy.
Pollack was wise to stay away from any on-screen romance between Penn and Kidman, thus ratcheting up the tension between them during their uncomfortably close scenes together. You want to shout out at Keller to make a move on Silvia, especially after hearing his heartfelt story about his recently passed wife, but you stop mid-sentence because Silvia still may be the one behind the assassination. And we never like our good guys to date our bad guys, do we?
“The Interpreter” starts off incredibly tense, with no sense of trust in any of the characters, but the script also forces the audience to look at Silvia as the main threat much too early on, and you almost forget that she’s still there later in the film. The story walks such a frighteningly shaky tightrope (right up to the clever rendezvous on the city bus where almost every main character of the story seems to be at play in some facet) that when the script takes a fatal nosedive into its final act, you leave the theater feeling void of an ending that compliments the clever script.
The widescreen DVD release of "The Interpreter" includes an audio commentary with director Sidney Pollack, an alternate ending and a handful of deleted scenes. Also featured on the single-disc release is an inside look at the United Nations, a production featurette on editing, and a sit-down with a real life interpreter.