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"The Interpreter"

Directed by Sydney Pollack.
Written by Charles Randolph, Scott Frank and Steven Zaillian.
Starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  4/24/05



"The Interpreter", the first film from the great Sydney Pollack ("Out of Africa", "Tootsie") in about five years, seems to have a lot going on but ultimately was just kind of blah.  Or ehh.  Nicole Kidman plays the title role, an interpreter named Silvia who works at the United Nations and is one of only a handful of citizens that can speak a small African country's dialect...the SAME dialect that she overhears two men speaking one night as they plot an assassination of a genocidal overlord making a speech at the U.N. in a few days.

Enter the Foreign Dignitary Protection Service, an arm of the Secret Service led by Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and his partner, Dot Woods (Catherine Keener).  Assigned to the case because they are entrusted with protecting the man that might be assassinated, Keller and Woods begin investigating Silvia and her shady background, and they are led deeper into a ring of criminals and deceit and blah blah blah.

Pollack, who also plays Keller's boss in the film, directs some very riveting sequences, from the violent intro to a terrorist bombing (and the moves leading to that bombing) to exchanges between Silvia and Keller that range from chilly to funny to taut to heartwarming.  "The Interpreter" is also aided by the fact that it was shot at the real U.N. building in New York, which I think is the first time they have ever allowed a film to be shot there...just scenes that take place on the U.N.'s main floor were riveting to me.  The political aspects of what is going on in the film ring true with what is happening in real life in some African nations, if not the world--the once-heroic ruler that is now playing the role of dictator, killing his own people for political gain.  This is always going to be an interesting film topic, and "The Interpreter" does a good job of giving us the political backstory without playing the role of your CBS Evening News.

The film's failing comes in not sticking to its agenda.  By this, I mean that the film's writers just can't make a film that is a straight political thriller, they HAVE to give us a reason for the two stars to have a friendship, or an attempt at one, while this whole "assassination attempt" is being plotted.  I'll give them credit--at least the leads' relationship is not sexual in any way.  No, it's a shared loss, Silvia with her brother and Keller with his recently-deceased wife, that brings the twosome closer, and Keller's dead wife in particular brings the movie down a full notch on its own.  They could have just given us the first Keller scene in the movie, where he tosses his wedding ring away and continues to down shots, and that would have painted the picture of "depressed cop that needs to work to forget his sorrow."  But, instead, we get five scenes like that, making an already-long film (130 minutes) feel even longer.  Worse, no one can even make the argument that these scenes really add much to the overall product...the film's not even about the Penn character anyway.

There were other little things that nagged on me--do you think that a murder suspect could get out of answering questions about other suspects with "It's personal" or "It's none of your business"???  Well, the Kidman character uses these and more throughout the film to dodge the questioning of Keller and his team, odd given that we are talking about the possible assassination of a foreign leader.  But it was mostly the subplot of "The Interpreter" that upset me the most; if this movie had just stuck to its guns and given us the generally-interesting storyline of the visiting African leader and why someone wants him dead, I would have been very happy with the final product.  But, I guess sometimes, you can never leave well enough alone.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09