The Interpreter

Sydney Pollack's restrained, bloodless potboiler, the first film ever shot inside the United Nations' Manhattan headquarters, clearly aims to be an alternative to the brainless, frenetic action cartoons that have supplanted chillingly intelligent political thrillers like THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973) or Pollack's own THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). But its...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Sydney Pollack's restrained, bloodless potboiler, the first film ever shot inside the United Nations' Manhattan headquarters, clearly aims to be an alternative to the brainless, frenetic action cartoons that have supplanted chillingly intelligent political thrillers like THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973) or Pollack's own THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). But its talky, sluggish script is so bereft of thrills — intellectual or otherwise — that even the film's one masterfully staged sequence, in which five key characters converge on a Brooklyn bus while baffled federal agents scramble to figure out what's going on, falls flat. United Nations interpreter Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman, employing a nonspecific British colonial accent) returns to work after hours and overhears an urgent, whispered threat in Ku, an obscure dialect of sub-Saharan Matobo (a fictitious country that strongly suggests Zimbabwe, home to the Matobo Hills), where Silvia was raised. The life of Matoban dictator Edmond Zuwanie (Earl Cameron) is on the line, and after trying to contact her estranged brother (Hugo Speer) in Matobo — we know he's been murdered — and learning that Zuwanie is coming to the U.N., Silvia reluctantly reports the threat. To her shock and dismay, Silvia realizes that federal agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), who's dispatched to interview her, is not only not assigned to protect her, but thinks she's lying. That Zuwanie was responsible for the death of Silvia's parents and younger sister does nothing to strengthen her credibility. But the threat can't be ignored, especially if Zuwanie's assassination is to take place at the U.N. So as his visit approaches, the high-strung Keller — still reeling from his wife's death two weeks earlier — and his partner (Catherine Keener) pursue an increasingly urgent investigation that turns up a host of suspicious sorts with shadowy motives. They include Zuwanie's sinister security chief, former Dutch mercenary Nils Lud (Jesper Christensen); exiled rebel leader Kuman-Kuman (George Harris), who holds court in Brooklyn while lobbying to replace Zuwanie; shady Matoban nationals Jean Gamba (Byron Utley) and Jad Jamal (Patrick Ssenjovu); and roving French photographer Philippe (Yvan Attal), who was with Silvia's brother when he died. Though it's hard to watch skillful actors like Kidman and Penn spinning their wheels, the real shame of this deeply flawed picture is that it promises so much, then sacrifices the stark, complex interplay of global power and self-interest on the altar of sloppy emotional machinations and the pop-psych grail of closure.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Sydney Pollack's restrained, bloodless potboiler, the first film ever shot inside the United Nations' Manhattan headquarters, clearly aims to be an alternative to the brainless, frenetic action cartoons that have supplanted chillingly intelligent political… (more)

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