The Interpreter

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      Well it's almost May and summer must be coming because the first "serious" Hollywood film of the year is out. Sure, there have already been a few good comedies in 2005 like Hitch and Fever Pitch but mostly the first part of the year is a wasteland for movie releases. I spend most of the winter catching up on last year's films. But here it is, a film directed by Sydney Pollack (three times nominated for Best Director, one win), starring Nicole Kidman (twice nominated for Best Actress, one win), Sean Penn (four times nominated for Best Actor, one win) and Catherine Keener (one time nominated for Best Supporting Actress, no wins). And it's a serious subject too, The United Nations. In The Interpreter, Kidman plays the title role as an American who grew up in a fictional south african country, hence the accent. She works at the UN as an interpreter and one night she overhears two people plotting to kill the President of her fictional country (Earl Cameron) while he is addressing the UN General Assembly. When she tells what she overheard, two members of the secret service (Sean Penn and Catherine Keener) are assigned to investigate. The President is about to be brought up on charges of genocide before the International Criminal Court so lots of people want him dead. Kidman, herself, has reasons to hate him. Plus, her brother is missing in Africa, and soon after she overhears the conversation, all sorts of people start following her around. Penn has problems too. He is just returning to work after his own wife's death. Needless to say since this is a classic political thriller, there are lots of plot twists and everyone has secrets. And I won't give away any of them.

     The Interpreter is a very well put together film. Sydney Pollack is a darned good director. Besides the movies that he was nominated for directing, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Tootsie, and Out of Africa, he also directed, Three Days of the Condor and The Way We Were. As usual, Pollack plays a role in his own film. Here, he plays Penn and Keener's boss at the Secret Service. The Interpreter has a bit of the feel of Three Days of the Condor , a very good film, where Robert Redford plays a low level analyst for the CIA who goes on the run when suddenly everybody is trying to kill him. The Interpreter builds up a very nice tension as it slowly approaches the climax. You can maybe guess some of the plot twists but it is still satisfying to watch. And Penn and Kidman are great as always. They have a lot of scenes together and they manage to make a nice emotional connection without having sex. Penn has always been a volcano of an actor but here he has it under nice control. And Kidman is becoming very Meryl Streep-esque the way she drops completely into roles. She is on a great run lately with The Hours, Dogville, Cold Mountain, etc., etc. Finally, there is Catherine Keener who the NY Times reviewer referred to as underutilized in the movies. That is an understatement. She is amazing. Her acting is effortless. Too bad Keener is just the sidekick. Happily, she gets to survive to the end of the movie unlike most sidekicks. Keener's always great performances are often in obscure Indie movies but she was seen by a few people in films such as Being John Malkovich and Your Friends & Neighbors. I love her.

     The Interpreter was actually filmed in and around the UN building in Manhattan so no CGI was needed. That's probably why the interpreter's booths ringing the General Assembly look so dorky. And New York looks great as always, a movie set with 8 million extras, always available. Anyway, The Interpreter does take itself a little too seriously but it's tense and intense. Thankfully, winter is over.