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THE INTERPRETER
U.S. Release Date: April 22, 2005
Distributor: Universal
Director: Sydney Pollack
Writer: Scott Frank, Steven Zaillian
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Anthony Minghella (executive), Kevin Misher, Sydney Pollack (executive)
Composer: James Newton Howard
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Sydney Pollack
Running Time: 2 hours and 8 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, some sexual content and brief strong language)

Pollack Mixes Pacifism with Suspense
by Scott Holleran

Packing punch, The Interpreter, directed by Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa), delivers solid suspense with pacifistic propaganda. Setting a conventional thriller to a head-spinning whodunit with shrewd use of Sean Penn's scrappiness, Mr. Pollack presents his most intelligent mystery since Absence of Malice.

In fact, The Interpreter has a lot in common with Mr. Pollack's 1981 newspaper reporting thriller starring Sally Field and Paul Newman. Both movies feature a fiery idealistic female and a weary male guardian in need of redemption. Combine today's chronic fear with a big budget, and there it pretty much is—the right ingredients for a detective thriller.

The crime to detect is tyranny; the murder of a nation's spirit at the bloody hands of a dictator whose dirty deeds have sapped the life out of a United Nations interpreter, played by Nicole Kidman. It would take three days to explain the plot, with its double-take turns, but it is clear that she's from a fictional southern African country where events brought her to believe in the U.N. philosophy. As offered here—and it is a stretch—that means fighting evil with ideas, not guns.

Mr. Pollack adds another layer of anticipation by playing off the multi-hand script's obligatory dark cop character, portrayed nicely by Sean Penn. Carrying a secret of his own, Mr. Penn's Secret Service agent is also wounded—by a woman—and he doesn't trust Miss Kidman any more than he can speak Swahili. Paired with a butch agent (Catherine Keener) who wears pants and looks after him, he's a mess.

Mr. Penn brings his anti-hero pain to a full boil by interlocking with Miss Kidman, whose interpreter is convinced she heard someone threaten to assassinate that African thug (Earl Cameron, practically doing Nelson Mandela) in the middle of his upcoming U.N. General Assembly address. Mr. Penn never upstages Miss Kidman's breathlessly monotonous little drummer girl—limp blonde hair dangling in her frightened face—and he becomes her safe harbor, which she suddenly needs since it's likely the plotters know she's on to them.

The assassination plot may be true or false, but a prime suspect is a resistance leader (a nice turn by George Harris) who lives in Brooklyn, where he decides to take the same bus as Miss Kidman and half the Secret Service. There's a bag, maybe a bomb, and the usual walkie talkie fuzz not to mention the dictator's nosy security chief, Mr. Pollack as a fishy Secret Service boss—even a Frenchman named Philippe. The action concludes with a couple of climaxes, including a U.N. ending that borrows from The Day of the Jackal. It's a big, old-fashioned blast with a top-notch cast as the dynamite.

That Mr. Pollack's theme, a bittersweet blend of peace and love, fails to explode on screen isn't for lack of trying. This is the United Nations—The Interpreter is the first movie to be granted access—and knowledge of the massive moral evasions of this corrupt institution is impossible to set aside. An organization with state sponsors of terrorism and communist dictatorships in its highest offices deserves scorn, not praise.

There is also the problem of Miss Kidman, whose hardness kills any chemistry between her and Mr. Penn whenever they're together. But the idea of ideas being important is good, and Mr. Pollack provides his familiar, thought-provoking flourish. Ultimately, it's a scene following a terrorist attack that hits home. There is the eerie stillness, the disbelief, the quivering voices and the quiet acts of kindness, proving that Mr. Pollack grasps the perceptual sense, if not the conceptual root, of war.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
The neatly presented DVD edition of The Interpreter offers an alternate ending—Nicole Kidman's character gets some more screen time—deleted scenes, more of the United Nations and a suite of options about and featuring director Sydney Pollack.

A bit called Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room is solid—why the Out of Africa director's profile is capped at ten minutes is a mystery—and Mr. Pollack discusses acting, including how he was invited to teach at age 19.

He's still teaching in another piece, Interpreting Pan & Scan Vs. Widescreen, an excellent if brief tutorial in which he convincingly explains why widescreen is better.

Mr. Pollack is also concise in the movie narration, confining remarks to what's happening on screen in that rare audio commentary that can be appreciated while actually watching the movie. Other features include The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations and A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters.

Overall, The Interpreter is a fine addition to one's home entertainment library.


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