a critiQal film review The Interpreter (2005)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: When she overhears the words "The Teacher will never leave this room alive," U.N. interpreter Silvia Broome's (Kidman) life is turned upside down as she becomes a hunted target. As federal agent Tobin Keller (Penn) digs deeper into his eyewitnesses' past and her secretive world of global connections, the more suspicious he becomes that she herself might be involved in the conspiracy. Is Sylvia a victim? A suspect? Or something else entirely?

604 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 1s)

While perusing our NetFlix® instant queue, we came across a more recent release we had been wanting to check out: The Interpreter, starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. We didn’t know much about the film aside from the title and the fact it was a thriller. We did vaguely remember seeing some interesting previews about it, so figured we’d give it a shot.

Nicole Kidman, usually able to hide her strong Australian accent, manages to inject a bit of a South African accent into her voice in The Interpreter. It’s a bit odd hearing her with that accent (almost as odd as hearing her in interviews with her Australian accent). But, it does make her character – who supposedly grew up in Africa – more believable to the viewer.

Aside from managing to toss in a trace of an accent, Kidman seems a bit off in The Interpreter, seemingly cold and uncaring most of the time. This frigid exterior works towards the film’s advantage, however, as the viewer – just like Sean Penn’s character Tobin Keller – never quite trusts her, making the twists and turns of the storyline even more tense.

Sean Penn – now known for his award-winning acting in films like Dead Man Walking rather than his ex-wife, Madonna – shows a bit of the reasons why in The Interpreter. With an intensity he seems to have come to in his later years, Penn involves himself with the character and the viewer, tying the two inexorably together. He gets the viewer to want to see his character through to the end of the film. It’s a much more commanding presence than his first “stoner” role back in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and really shows how age has improved his skills. He doesn’t have all of that present in The Interpreter – still commanding but looking like he could use a good night’s sleep, of which he might partake of at any moment. Still, it’s enough for him to lead the viewer where he (and the film) wants them to go.

The rest of the cast – including a subdued second-string performance by Catherine Keener – aren’t quite as commanding, but then, they don’t need to be. While they may not be as memorable, they do their parts with aplomb. Most importantly, they never give the viewer a reason to step back from the tension the film is building.

Sydney Pollack has apparently gotten quite good at pulling together intricate thrillers in a way that viewers can easily follow. While his previous attempt, The Firm, left a little to be desired, The Interpreter does a good job of mixing in elements of a political thriller. It’ds like someone making soup – slowly adding in more and more ingredients until the viewer finds themselves caught up in a rather intense thriller without even realizing it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few flaws that may trip up the viewer, but it’s definitely a large step up from The Firm.

The Interpreter turns out to be a solid political thriller, involving yet easy to follow, with a decent – if unusual – performance from Nicole Kidman, and a solid – if sleepy – performance from Sean Penn. The film easily builds up the tension, even if it does brush over some intriguing topics along the way without giving them much thought (an interesting subplot could have involved the agents’ distaste in working with a dictator trying to worm his way out of being brought up on war crimes, for example). Still, The Interpreter is a solid political thriller, and definitely worth a look.

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