Review: The Interpreter

The Interpreter wants nothing more than to be tasteful.

The Interpreter
Photo: Universal Pictures

Thirty years past The Parallax View, audiences no longer search political thrillers for subversive elements. Leave the discourse to documentaries. Our idea of a political thriller has been watered down to a chase movie that happens to involve a necessarily nonpartisan politician; nothing is ever at stake. Publicity for The Interpreter has made much of the film’s license to shoot inside the United Nations, but this fact only further exemplifies how innocuous the new political cinema has become. Sydney Pollack’s film, though handsomely shot and glibly entertaining, is unlikely to challenge any assumptions about where our world is headed. Nicole Kidman plays an African-born U.N. interpreter (think Audrey Hepburn in Charade) who intercepts a death threat against the president of Matoba (a fictional sub-Saharan African nation, for neutrality’s sake). She quickly becomes a hunted target, protected only by Sean Penn’s emotionally distraught, recently bereaved federal agent. A bit of probing into the interpreter’s past catalyzes a series of improbable convolutions, meta-twists, and coincidences—all de rigueur for the genre. What keeps The Interpreter consistently involving even as it succumbs to predictability are Kidman and Penn’s performances. Two of our finest Method-ians in their least demanding roles in years, they imbue their grief-stricken conspiracy cogs with a gravitas the rest of the film doesn’t strive for. The dead-wife scenario provides Penn with a grand opportunity for displaying his recent trademark mournful self-seriousness, and he delivers. Despite it’s In the Line of Fire assassination conspiracies and nail-biting Speed-esque bus trauma, The Interpreter wants nothing more than to be tasteful. “Words over guns” is the unofficial motto of Pollack’s film, which provides a pseudo-sincere advertisement for U.N. diplomacy while hooking its audience with bombs and jollies. Subversive, maybe, but hardly explosive.

 Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Jesper Christensen, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron, George Harris, Michael Wright  Director: Sydney Pollack  Screenwriter: Charles Randolph, Scott Frank, Steven Zaillian  Distributor: Universal Pictures  Running Time: 125 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2005  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Akiva Gottlieb

Akiva Gottlieb's writing has appeared in Variety, The Village Voice, The Nation, Documentary Magazine, and Audible Range.

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