The Interpreter Movie Review

Astute moviegoers will recall that this isn't the first time Nicole Kidman has saved the world -- and especially the United Nations -- from destruction. And while 1997's The Peacemaker was a guilty pleasure of high intrigue and adventure, the flaccid The Interpreter doesn't generate half the excitement, kitschy or no.

The contrived setup gives us Nic as one Silvia Broome, a long-time resident of Africa who now makes a living as an interpreter at the UN. The headlines have a hated president from her homeland by the name of Zuwanie who's accused of genocide coming to give a speech to the General Assembly; most observers assume that the speech will save him from being tried for crimes against humanity as he pledges democratic reforms, and so his enemies are -- possibly -- planning to murder him at the podium. Or at least that's what Silvia says, as she overhears a potential plot late one night in her talkin' booth when she returns to the UN to get her "flutes and stuff."

The tension escalates as the Secret Service is brought in to investigate, with Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) not buying any of this. But after -- gasp! -- Silvia spots a creepy guy peering into her window one night, well, things suddenly look pretty serious! Never mind the bomb detonated on a bus in Brooklyn, Nic's in jeopardy, stalked by a peeping tom!

I kid because so much of The Interpreter is so absurd it can't stand up to even the slightest amount of analysis. Why do murderers do their plotting on the floor of the General Assembly with microphones all around? Why are various irrelevant side characters offed one by one? How is it Silvia doesn't get any spam!? Silvia is given so many deep, dark secrets (and shown in such compromising light) we're guessing she's not so innocent by the time the second reel rolls around. When Tobin asks "Are you involved in this!?" for the tenth time we've figured out the answer long before. Predictability and convolution have never intersected so bizarrely.

Credit Kidman for at least imbuing a difficult role with some sense of character, emotion, and backstory. Poor Penn plays Tobin as a pitiful rube and recent widower, a sad sack who perpetually looks like he has no idea what he's doing. Imagine Penn forlornly scouring Iraq in search of WMDs and you'll get a sense for his approach to playing his Secret Service agent. Thank God for Catherine Keener, playing Tobin's partner, whose dour grimaces and deadpan sarcasm (strangely) save the film from being an otherwise humorless and pretentious mess.

Director Sydney Pollack hasn't made a great film since 1985's Out of Africa (ironically), and here he's just rehashing his same old structure (The Firm, Random Hearts) while throwing in a bit of faux contemporary flavor by giving a nod to international politics. Unfortunately he and his crew of five writers have mixed in so many dead ends, missed opportunities, and misguided plot developments that you can't help but be thankful that politics aren't quite as stupid as Hollywood thinks they are.

We're watching you, Mexico!


The Interpreter Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 2005


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