Saturday, April 23, 2005

Reel To Reel:
The Interpreter

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Nichole Kidman, Sean Penn
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Violence, Language, One Strip Bar Scene

Preconceived Notions: Sydney Pollack is back with a suspense thriller.
The Bottom Line: Suspense, surprises, even with a forced setup.

Alfred Hitchcock could have easily directed a film like The Interpreter and turned it into a masterpiece of suspense and international intrigue. What Sydney Pollack produces doesn't quite reach the bar, but it comes darn close -- especially since it's the first film shot extensively at the United Nations, further enhancing its realism.

Kidman plays Sylvia Broome, a UN interpreter who fled a war-torn African nation believing words worked better than bullets at bringing about peace. One night, while retrieving a bag from the audio engineering room -- a questionable plot device because we never really understand why it needed to be placed there to begin with -- she overhears somebody talking about a plot to assassinate her former country's embattled prime minister... who will be speaking before the General Assembly in just a few days. It's an amazing coincidence, made even more amazing when you realize that conversation was whispered and coming from a headphone, meaning Broome has Superman's hearing.

Get beyond those little head-scratchers, though. The rest of the film is tightly plotted and paced as the feds investigate the both the threat and Broome, who isn't quite the innocent diplomat she appears to be. Tobin Keller (Penn) is the Secret Service agent assigned to her, the kind of fed who believes none of what he hears and only half of what he sees. He thinks she's lying, and maybe she is. But he's drawn to this woman who's lost both her parents, having just lost a wife. Both are seeking their own forms of justice.

The chemistry between Penn and Kidman's characters seems a bit contrived for reasons I can't explain without giving away plot points. At times it's like the writers simply forgot the events of the previous scene because some edict came down that both leads were to be pushed closer together in the next scene. Thankfully, the romance between them isn't a major distraction as the plot to kill the prime minister unravels. On the other hand, both of these people have too much on their mind to have time for love, so maybe I'm reading it wrong.

Pollack, as he's done before, inserts himself in a bit part -- by no means as memorable as his George Fields character from Tootsie -- something, ironically, Hitchcock might have done on a one-scene scale. But Hitchcock would have also have found a way to make the romantic angle work better. It's fun to think about this film being rewritten for Cary Grant and Doris Day. Yes, we dream about peace between nations just like dreaming about the perfect film.

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