The Interpreter (2005)Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexual content and brief strong language.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener.
LVJeff's Rating: 7/10
Photo ©Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.
Goold Old-Fashioned Paranoia
The Interpreter feels like an old-fashioned Hollywood thriller, and perhaps this should come as no surprise. After all, its director is Sydney Pollack, helming his first movie in about five or six years. Interesting story: as I watched the new movie, starring Nicole Kidman and Seann Penn, I thought to myself that it reminded me of The Firm. I didn't know who directed that particular film, and, in looking it up this morning, found out it was ... Sydney Pollack. The Kidman movie doesn't have a plot quite as dopey as the one in The Firm, yet it contains the tensions of the Tom Cruise film while feeling actually believable. Score another one for the former Mrs. Cruise.
As a political thriller, The Interpreter seems pretty conventional, but it's held up by a trio of strengths, which not only include Pollack's brisk, no-nonsense directing but also fine performances by Kidman and Penn. It's one of those movies where it's simply fun to watch the pros eat up the screen. Kidman has always been good at conveying vulnerability, which comes in especially handy here since much of the plot involves whether or not anyone should believe the stories she tells. And Penn lends instant weight to any role, even one as fairly obligatory as the gruff, battle-hardened law enforcer who is suffering in his personal life.
All of this contributes to the "old-fashioned" feel. Because the movie is star-driven in a way that emphasizes its entertainment value, it's not quite as successful when attempting to be relevant. Although dealing with the corruption of political idealism and the replacement of the power of words with the power of guns, the focus is on the relationship between the Kidman and Penn characters, and you can't help wondering if it will ever culminate in a kiss.
Still, there's something to be said about the messages The Interpreter tries to get across, if only because the film playfully dabbles in irony. For example, even though highlighting the power of words, it's set in the United Nations, where some of the characters blankly acknowledge that a bunch of people talking doesn't seem to solve anything, thereby reflecting a generally popular opinion. Kidman plays the holdout, who believes in the diplomatic process, but even her character takes part in a wrinkle to that thought during the ending, in which (and I'll be vague) a threat of violence is used to enforce the meaning of words. One gets the idea that the two forms of persuasion can't live without each other, despite their being positioned as opposing tactics.
Just the same, you probably won't be thinking of that tidbit as you watch the film, if only because its characters and their points of view come wrapped up and presented so neatly you won't have the urge to ponder them further. The Interpreter is a professional piece of Hollywood diversion, asking for credibility in its straightforward-delivered themes and given credibility by its stars -- just like the way this kind of movie was done in the old days. If the last reel reminds you a bit of The Manchurian Candidate, that's probably no coincidence, and nothing to be ashamed of either.
©Jeffrey Chen, Apr. 20, 2005