A review of “The Interpreter” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for language, violence and mature themes

Run Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes

 

 

Huzzah to the smart political thriller, a classic breed of cinema that faces permanent extinction thanks to soulless efforts like this one.

Blessed with the aid of A-list talent and a bevy of talented screenwriters, legendary director Sydney Pollack (whose last film was the romantic poseur Random Hearts) still can’t muster much in the way of thrills or heat.

The fictitious African state of Matobo is the core of Interpreter’s international intrigue.  United Nations interpreter Silvia Bloome (Nicole Kidman) quietly goes about her job with maximum diplomacy and minimum heart.  While genocide rages in her native land (mom was an Englishwoman and dad a white African) Silvia keeps to herself and does her job.

Until the fateful evening when she walks into her office after-hours and mistakenly overhears two men plotting to kill Matobo’s controversial president, due to speak at the U.N. General Assembly.  

That snafu brings the cavalry running, in the edgy form of Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), a hard-bitten Secret Service agent (Dignitary Protection Squad) who has lost his wife to a car crash two weeks previously (negative points for a melodramatic plot arc that stretches credibility to the breaking point).

Naturally the perpetrators are out to get Silvia.  Naturally the Secret Service can’t afford the scandal of a visiting dignitary popped on foreign soil.  The plot thickens as the sticky wickets of revolution and global terrorism go head-to-head with Silvia’s not-so-pretty political past.

Tension isn’t the problem, nor is Pollack’s taut direction. But platitude piles on platitude (“vengeance is a lazy form of grief”) while Silvia and Tobin circle the unlikeliest of mating dances and suffer through interminable cat-and-mouse face-offs. 

You can’t underestimate the effectiveness of the power players; both Kidman and Penn have something to offer even with a preachy script to work from. Catherine Keener as Keller’s bemused partner steals the show with a minimum of screen time.  The U.N. granted rare permission to film on-site and the power and grandeur of that lofty institution offers an essential eloquence.