Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sydney Pollack
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Earl Cameron, Sydney Pollack, Jesper Christensen, Maz Jobrani, Yusef Gatewood, Byron Utley, Clyde Kusatsu, David Zayas.
Sylvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) is an interpreter at the UN. One night she accidentally overhears an assassination plot aimed at a President Zuwanie (played by Briton Earl Cameron, who had a small role in Thunderball before living in a self-imposed semi-retirement in the Solomon islands), a controversial African dictator from the African nation of Matoba. Zuwanie has been accused of orchestrating a campaign of genocide against his own countrymen. He is due to address the UN and plead his case. However recently widowed secret service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and his partner agent Woods (indy favourite Catherine Keener, from Lovely And Amazing, etc) are unsure of what to make of Broome, her mysterious background, and her story. She seems to be hiding something and gives the agents evasive answers. But when someone also seems to be eliminating Zuwanie’s political opponents, a desperate race against time begins to prevent an assassination inside the very HQ of the United Nations.
The Interpreter is Sydney Pollack’s occasionally cliched Hitchcockian homage which deftly melds politics with suspense thrills, but ultimately falls short of the mark. One would have expected that this drama, directed by an Oscar winner, starring two recent Oscar winners, and co-written by an Oscar winning writer in Steven Zaillian, would somehow have been a tighter and more solid exercise in suspense. Veteran Pollack has delved into this genre before, especially with the superb paranoid thriller Three Days Of the Condor, but here his direction seems to lack the same sense of urgency. There are a couple of genuinely tense moments – such as the bomb on the bus scene – but I was rarely on the edge of my seat during this film.
With an overly generous running time of a tad over two hours, the occasionally leisurely pacing provides audiences with plenty of time to ponder the obvious plot holes and inconsistencies. Audiences will also be able to name check all the obvious filmic references and influences (everything from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much through to Brian De Palma’s excellent Blow Out). And Pollack has achieved something that not even Hitchcock was allowed to do, which was actually film inside the UN building, which somehow adds a touch of verite to the drama, but also seems to mute any real criticism of the organisation’s relevance in the modern world.
Penn brings some depth to his troubled secret service agent seeking redemption or salvation. But it is Kidman’s morally ambiguous and enigmatic character who is the most troubling and most unbelievable here, although she plays Sylvia with a combination of steely determination and haunting vulnerability. It is the clash between these two, a professional distance that slowly thaws into a hint of romance, which drives this film.