Tulsa TV Memories

"The Interpreter"
A review by Gary Chew

United Nations
The United Nations building in New York City

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Sydney Pollack’s new political-intrigue thriller, “The Interpreter,” is smart: the setting, the characters, the topic, the acting, the dialogue, the music. All smart. And, oh yes, with a script that could be smarter and a good deal more plausible

Nicole Kidman has the title role as an African-born U.N. interpreter who accidentally overhears a death threat against an African head of state soon to speak in the General Assembly.

Sean Penn is a U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to get to the bottom of the alleged assassination plot and stop it if it’s genuine or understand why Kidman’s character has made up such a story.

Despite all the devices for who-dunit-ness and suspense, the words on the page just don’t deliver enough to "make this dog hunt.” The film is more a snazzy vehicle for Kidman and Penn to convey the angst of their roles into a camera focused very closely on their photogenic faces.

Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman
Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman

Both do it quite well, however, with Penn getting the nod, I believe. Despite his controversial place in this modern world, Mr. Penn is a truly fine actor with many more “miles to go" if his personal life doesn’t get in the way or he’s finally waylaid by doing an abundance of shallow Hollywood scripts.

Kidman, another fine actor of the day, seems to be only in one emotional place in “The Interpreter.” Overwhelmed, over-intense and way too chilly as we try to determine where this erudite lady is coming from in the script.

Brief moments of Sydney Pollack, himself, as Penn’s on-screen supervisor and Catherine Keener as Penn’s dutiful Secret Service sidekick give the film other interesting faces and voices to glance at and hear. Keener, who should be seen more, doesn’t really have enough in the picture to show her talent.

Director Sydney Pollack Catherine Keener

Director Sydney Pollack

Catherine Keener

The United Nations itself is a character, too. Many scenes, inside and out of its sleek, slender façade, are cast with striking day and night aerial shots of The Big Apple’s skyline.

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” notwithstanding, this may be Sean Penn’s crossover to mildly interesting, mainstream motion pictures. I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad news. It depends on the reason why one goes to see Penn’s movies.

To surpass the Oscar-winning performance he gave in Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River(reviewed by Chew on this site) will take some doing, but with a good script, as I said, Penn has many more “miles to go" to make an even more indelible impression on American Cinema.

Kidman, too, for that matter.

"The Interpreter" official site.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2005, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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