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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.98%
Worth A Look46.51%
Average: 29.07%
Pretty Bad: 9.3%
Total Crap: 8.14%

8 reviews, 38 user ratings

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Interpreter, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"It's a thriller! It's a drama! It's...uh...neither."
3 stars

Nobody seems to have slept much in 'The Interpreter,' a dour and serious-minded political thriller that makes the case for diplomacy over violence -- which doesn't make for a terribly exciting thriller.

In any event, everyone in the movie pulls all-nighters, out of duty or habit, watching or being watched, and fretting ceaselessly about past and possible future traumas. The movie could be called National Insecurity. The motor for this thriller is a feeble one: A bloody-handed African dictator is threatened with assassination, but because he's not sitting on billions of dollars worth of oil, the U.S. Secret Service moves heaven and earth to protect him.

The dictator isn't the only one needing protection. Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), an African by birth and an interpreter at the United Nations, overhears a possible plot to whack the dictator. Silvia takes this information to the Secret Service, who, in the person of recent widower Tobin Keller (Sean Penn, gray of hair and face), is skeptical at first. Soon, though, Silvia attracts the wrong kind of attention; a shadowy assassin begins tailing her, and she has mysterious connections to the dictator. It's all enough to keep Sean Penn up all night. As low-key here as he was keyed-up in Mystic River, Penn gives an implosive performance without much inner life; it feels like a contractual obligation, though, to be fair, the many-handed script doesn't give him much to play with, other than a vaguely amusing running almost-joke wherein he keeps calling a pair of agents "Lewis and Clark."

High-class to a fault, and well-cast in every supporting role (the roster includes no fewer than four veterans of HBO's late, great prison drama Oz), The Interpreter nevertheless burns with a very low flame, powered less by thrills than by its high-minded message, helpfully spelled out by Silvia in a monologue about how people deal with rage and grief where she comes from. The movie, I understand, has been in the works for years, and what possibly started as a down-and-dirty thriller that would never have gotten permission to shoot in the actual U.N. building (as this movie did) became, after 9/11 and various pre-emptive wars, a Big Statement on the importance of the U.N. as peacekeepers. It's a useful message just now, yes, but thrillers aren't the best couriers.

Part of what stops the movie up is its inevitable white liberal guilt. When you get down to it, what we have here is white (skinned) knights racing to the rescue of a vicious black ruler, whose reign is threatened by two other corrupt black guys. The Interpreter touches very lightly on the racial issue, to the point of sanctimony. But the unavoidable subtext is that whites, preferably American, know what's good for everyone else on the planet. There's a bitter nod to geopolitical reality, though, when Keller's boss (played by director Sydney Pollack) notes that, with America's world popularity at an all-time low, it wouldn't look good for a dictator to get killed in our country, especially one we don't like.

As a director, Pollack seems more interested in windy drama than in thrilling the audience; the movie is overlong and underpowered, with a mid-movie bus explosion tossed in reportedly to spice things up and acknowledge the spectre of terrorism. (Why the perpetrator is allowed to leave the bus when not one but two undercover agents are on board is a question for a better script.) Fans of the snarky Catherine Keener, intriguingly cast here as Keller's partner, can look forward to some entertainment value, particularly the politely clenched way she addresses a stripper who's lap-dancing a visiting dignitary. Keener is the movie's only connection to humor, but she's not around nearly enough, and the bulk of it is given over to Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman mourning their respective losses.

If you want to make a serious film about human-rights abuses and the U.N.'s role in policing them, you make one, without the clichéd backstories and the exploding bus. If you want to make a thriller, you forget most of the above -- Hitchcock sure did -- and focus on danger and intrigue. The effort to play it both ways must've kept the screenwriters up all night, too.

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originally posted: 01/04/07 15:08:42
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User Comments

6/26/18 morris campbell good movie 4 stars
12/05/11 Pamela White Good intellectual thriller 4 stars
5/11/11 Chris. Poor acting, poor storytelling, too long, why do people like this 2 stars
11/24/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
3/17/08 mr.mike Has all the nail-biting suspense episode of "Hunter". 2 stars
12/16/07 Jason Boring. 1 stars
1/31/07 Matt Kidman is horribly miscast in an implausible movie. Nothing here worth giving a shit about 2 stars
8/07/06 missy Le Peaux riveting 5 stars
6/22/06 drydock54321 just ok . 3 stars
4/15/06 Steve Newman Excellent film - really enjoyable Apr 06 5 stars
2/04/06 Indrid Cold Plenty of attention to the humanity of it all, but it isn't thrilling, or even interesting. 3 stars
1/04/06 Piz far fetched and wacky but kept my interest 4 stars
12/26/05 R.W.Welch It ain't Manchurian Candidate, but a pro piece of work overall. 4 stars
11/26/05 KCobain Really bad and way too long. 2 stars
10/21/05 Phil M. Aficionado Despite Penn, any occasional brushes with reality are strictly coincidental 3 stars
10/20/05 Agent Sands Another anticipated big event that's forgotten completely. Keener is a highlight. 4 stars
10/12/05 ad cheesy, unconvincing and not innovative at all 2 stars
10/10/05 Monday Morning Slow & boring. Another nail in Hollywood's coffin. Many TV shows now surpass movies. 2 stars
7/26/05 Tim Kidman and Penn have NOOOO chemistry 2 stars
7/06/05 Frances Smeath Slowness and boredom is sometimes in beholders not in what they behold. 5 stars
6/29/05 Mark Murphy great thriller 4 stars
6/18/05 aldo 1 stars
6/11/05 Captain Craig No Academy Award here, but entertaining.You will like it better if you get in half price! 3 stars
6/06/05 Helen Bradley Very slow paced, Kidman and Penn while good actors have some poor dialogue to work through 1 stars
5/15/05 jcjs ho hum especiall after 'Kingdom of Heaven' 3 stars
5/13/05 Mark Thomas Painfully nauseating with horrendous racial overtones 1 stars
5/10/05 Carol It was okay 3 stars
5/09/05 jeff set ur alarm clock for 2:08 1 stars
5/02/05 Heather edge of seat thriller but watch out for plot holes 5 stars
5/01/05 alandala about as exciting and fun as watching grass grow 1 stars
4/27/05 Titus That makes two watchable movies for the year. Good, but not special. 4 stars
4/26/05 brody more ass taste than the olive garden 1 stars
4/25/05 Jeff Anderson A very intelligent & gripping thriller. Penn, Kidman & Keener(my favorite) are OUTSTANDING! 5 stars
4/25/05 Obi Wan Wow, best Thriller in a very long time. Actually had me at the edge of my seat! 5 stars
4/23/05 Sergio Better than Pollack's later films, but it ain't no The Yakuza 3 stars
4/20/05 Philip Buckley-Mellor Better than average story/direction/acting, but excellent photography and editing 4 stars
4/18/05 John Bale Sophisticated political thriller in the Hitchcock mold, with significance in the real world 4 stars
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  22-Apr-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Oct-2005



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