February 2, 2006
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Jesper Christensen, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron, George Harris, Michael Wright, Clyde Kusatsu, Eric Keenleyside, Hugo Speer, Maz Jobrani, Yusuf Gatewood, Curtiss Cook, ,
The Interpreter (2005) has all the pedigree of an A-list Hollywood movie complete with Academy Award winning leads Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, respected director Sydney Pollack, skilled screenwriters Scott Frank and Steven Zaillian and world renowned cinematographer Darius Khondji. And yet one can’t help but feel that all of this creative talent is only window dressing for a standard thriller.
Silvia Broome (Kidman) is an interpreter at the United Nations. Late one night while picking up some personal items left behind, she overhears two men talking in secret. She eavesdrops on what sounds like an assassination plot of a genocidal dictator of a small African country known as Matobo that is currently embroiled in a violent struggle. She soon finds herself being followed by mysterious men and so reports what she heard to the proper authorities. Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (Penn) and his partner (Keener) are brought in to investigate. During the course of his investigation, Keller questions her motives—is she merely a witness or a potential suspect?
Sean Penn is good as a no-nonsense agent haunted by the death of his wife. He delivers an economic performance trimmed of any excess. There are scenes where Penn doesn’t speak at all because he doesn’t need to. His facial expressions and body language effectively convey what he’s feeling. Nicole Kidman plays it pretty close to the vest, refusing to let us know if her character is innocent or in fact a scheming conspirator. It’s a guessing game typical of this kind of thriller and Kidman does a fine job.
Sydney Pollack has crafted an old-fashioned, straightforward political thriller. The screenplay is well-written, particularly the exchanges between Kidman and Penn during the initial stages of his investigation. They engage in an interesting battle of wills as he questions her motives and her past while she evades unable to fully trust him. The Interpreter is an intelligent film for adults, the cinematic equivalent of a good page turner. And yet, despite all of the talent involved Pollack’s movie is uninspired. It is missing that crucial, indefinable element that could make it a great movie. There’s something about these characters that makes it hard to truly care about them. The Interpreter lacks a driving passion to elevate it above the standard premise. As it stands, Pollack’s movie is a well-made studio production that lacks the personal touch of a great filmmaker.
There is an alternate ending that tweaks the existing one slightly.
Also included are three brief deleted scenes that don’t add up to much and were rightly cut.
“Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room” is a featurette that allows the veteran filmmaker to talk about how much he enjoys making movies because he gets to live different lives through the characters. He initially started out as an actor but wasn’t successful enough and so he became a teacher and later a director. Pollack also touches upon his love of the editing process where it all comes together and he has the most control.
“Interpreting Pan and Scan vs. Widescreen” features Pollack talking about his love of the widescreen aspect ratio and how pan and scan on TV caused him to reject that format until recently, thanks in large part to the advent of DVD. He shows the difference between the two formats and what is lost in the process.
There is an audio commentary by Sydney Pollack. He talks about why he cut certain scenes the way he did and discusses, at length, other film techniques, like the use of lighting. Pollack also talks about the script and how others wanted to cut out Keller’s backstory but he felt it was important because it informed the character’s motivations. This is an informative if somewhat dry track with many lulls throughout.
“The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations” takes a look at how the film was given rare permission to shoot inside the U.N. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t easy but Pollack appealed personally with the Head of the U.N. and got his consent. The director says that they treated the place like another main characters while Darius Khondji talks about what it was like to shoot there.
Finally, there is “A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters” that looks at real-life U.N. translators and what they do—they interpret what is said as it is being said not translating which is done with something written down or said after the fact.