* * * * A smart and timely film with distinctively pungent issues and characters
THE NEW political thriller, The Interpreter, demonstrates a big comeback for director Sydney Pollack after two failures in a row – the remake of Sabrina (a dodgy romance with Harrison Ford and the miscast Julia Ormond) and the romantic drama Random Harvest.
Shrewdly, Pollack brings global politics and socially relevant issues, such as ethnic cleansing and international terrorism, and places them at the centre of this film set in the locale of the United Nations.
A mature and intelligent film, The Interpreter has a cleverly and tightly spun story that gets increasingly more enthralling and suspenseful. A big part of the film takes place within the quarters of the famous building, which, though situated in Manhattan, is officially international territory and becomes an important plot point in the course of the film.
The film struck me as old-fashioned in the way it leads the viewer through the slick suspense of the story; but it is done very successfully and the audience is hooked from the start.
The movie opens on three men driving to an enigmatic place. There, two of them stumble upon row after row of rotting corpses and then, as they are leaving, the men are brutally shot. The third chap, who observed the killing, managed to photograph it.
We then cut to a UN session that is being translated by Sylvia Broome (Nicole Kidman). All of the UN staff are asked to vacate the building and, during the evacuation, Sylvia leaves behind her handbag and her flute. Later that night, she returns to get them. While there, Sylvia overhears a death threat against an African head of state, Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), spoken in a rare dialect that, conveniently, few people other than herself could possibly understand. Zuwanie is about to give a speech at the UN, which calls for a major security effort, involving different agencies.
On cue is the absolutely gorgeous and flawless Sean Penn as federal agent Tobin Keller who is assigned to the case. Highly devoted to his work, he is in close touch with his tough, down-to-earth partner, Dot Woods (Catherine Keener).
Pollack (who plays a cameo role) directs this film impeccably, building tension subtly until it erupts with startling fierceness. And the dramatic plot elements are even stronger, as two people with different outlooks on life are forced into a situation where they must find common ground. Meanwhile, Kidman and Penn have a fabulous chemistry, rippling with emotion, tension and passion. Their scenes are intoxicating and very powerful.
There is one overwrought climactic scene, though, that crosses the line into silly, moralistic movie-making. But this is an expertly made, grippingly old-fashioned thriller that keeps us guessing and squirming right to the end. The Interpreter is not an on-the-edge-of-your-seat, pulse-quickening, or even particularly scary, thriller and there are a few scenes that, although important for the plot, slow down the action a little. Apart from that, it’s a great watch and will have you captivated from the beginning.