Retro Review: The Interpreter

Oh how the mighty and brilliant have fallen.

On paper, a political thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn and directed by veteran director Sydney Pollack seems like a no-brainer.

The film follows Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), a young woman, who was born in the US but raised in the fictional African nation of Motobo, which could be Zimbabwe. Broome now works at the United Nations and specializes in African dialects.

During an after-hours session in the UN, Broome overhears a conversation about the plot to carry out the assassination of an African leader when he arrives to address the UN. The leader is the president of Motobo and he has been accused of mass genocide in his country.

When Broome reports her findings, Secret Service agents Tobin Kellar (Sean Penn) and Dot Woods (Catherine Keener) are called in to handle the case. As the agents look into Broome’s past and the president’s rivals, the plot thickens. Could Broome be lying and covering something up? Who is really behind the assassination? Who really is Silvia Broome?

“The Interpreter” is one of those kinds of movies that if you aren’t catapulted in by the central figure, you become lost in the void. The figure I had problems connecting with was Kidman’s interpreter. I never for one second bought the idea that she was the character. Her demeanor, cold exteriors, menacing glares and raspy hair added to the gel of the character but it never really holds.

Kidman is such a great actress but I have to wonder what has happened to her brilliance. I really thought that she was the first best actress winner in the last five years that wouldn’t let the rest of career suffer from performance auto-pilot.

After doing “The Hours”, “Dogville”, “The Human Stain” and “Cold Mountain” back to back she must have been creatively exhausted. And who can blame her. After witnessing “The Stepford Wives” and “The Interpreter”, the trend seems to continue into this summer’s “Bewitched” and the proposed “American Darlings” with Jennifer Lopez. With these films, are we witnessing the creative self-destruction of one of the great actresses working today? Possibly.

What could save her is that if her forth-coming films, “Emma’s War” and “Fur” pan out to their potential; we could see a bolder, stronger Nicole breaking free. So let’s hope so.

On the flipside, I did however enjoy the performance by Sean Penn who amazingly has found yet a new way to make grief believable on screen. He isn’t bold or over-the-top but restrained and haunted which seems like a mirror image to his Oscar winning role in “Mystic River”.

I couldn’t put my finger on it while I was watching the film but the dynamic between the two leads reminded me a lot of the hostage flick, “Proof of Life” with Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan.

The lead actors aren’t allowed to fall in love with each other and the film gets utterly and distractingly hung up on that fact. The same goes here. There needed to be more sexual tension between Penn and Kidman.

But since Penn doesn’t believe her from scene one, how can the audience?

This dynamic really bugged me.

I really think that this thriller suffers from its casting choices not its execution. If the film starred possibly Charlize Theron and maybe Denzel Washington with more sexual tension between the characters I think the film would have been oodles more interesting.

I liked Sydney Pollack’s slick direction and he has photographed his film extraordinarily well. The plot and story are really interesting and the script is even well executed. I was just really bugged by the film’s main star dynamic and Kidman’s auto-pilot performance.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer

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