The Interpreter (Director: Sydney Pollack)
Pollack has a distinguished career. He's one of those guys who could retire right now and be leaving a nice legacy. The biggest films on his resume (a lot of them starring Robert Redford, who he has worked with 6 times) are They Shoot Horses Don't They?, Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, Out of Africa, and The Firm. He also did the remake of Sabrina that I liked pretty well. His most notable failures are Havana and Random Hearts. The film's screenplay is from Charles Randolph (The Life of David Gale) and Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report) with Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Searching for Bobby Fischer). This movie opens Friday.
Political thrillers have an immediate handicap, and that comes from the first word in this sentence. I mean, the average audience is coming in and saying, "Aw, man...I have to keep track of a political situation during this flick?" This is especially true nowadays where everyone seems to be a bad guy. Back in the 80's the bad guys were simple: they were the Russians. You could slip into The Hunt for Red October without worrying about it, since the average viewer had the whole Cold War ingrained into their pop culture framework.
Now, a political thriller has to involve third world countries with dictators, the men who plan to violently overthrow them, and the people who may or may not be on one or the other's side--and which side is the right one to be on? Impossible to tell. In the post 9/11 world, no one is. In The Interpreter, Nicole Kidman plays the title character Silvia Broome, who works at the U.N. and can speak several languages including different South African dialects. One night as she comes back to her office she overhears a conversation in which the two parties are discussing an assassination plot on the dictator of Matobo. After some more information comes her way, she finally goes to the police, and the secret service gets involved. Enter Sean Penn as agent Tobin Keller. So, at this point is where certain things happen, and Keller distrusts Broome, who has duel U.S. and Matoban citizenry. As it gets closer to the president of Matobo's visit to the U.N., people start dying, and the hunt for the would-be assassin grows more intense.
The Interpreter has some finely-crafted tense scenes, and this is where the movie makes its mark. However, what I found dull and bogged this down was the relationship between Broome and Keller. They discuss their past; Broome discussing her feelings about political causes back when she was in Matobo and Keller discussing his dead wife. Also, the mystery in this isn't really getting solved--Keller reacts to events that are already taking place, so he's never there ahead of time, and he never connects the dots in such a way that makes us believe in him as a hero. So, back to The Hunt for Red October again. Jack Ryan is a hero. He thinks. He puts the pieces together--there are a couple of great scenes in that film where he's just trying to figure things out, and he does, and that's why we like him. The Interpreter sorely needs a person we can go into battle with, and no one here is present.
That's a shame, because we have a movie that could have been a true winner. One I could have easily recommended without worrying. It's definitely one of the better films of the year, and as we know, in 2005, that's not saying much, but at least the bar is a little higher now. That makes me think of pole vaulter Sergei Bubka and the Russians again--how I miss them!