Monday, April 25, 2005

Film Review: The Interpreter

On Friday evening, I went with some friends to see The Interpreter - a film I knew nothing about save for the fact that it starred Sean Penn & Nicole Kidman. In fact, once I knew I'd be going to see it I actually avoided all reviews, trailers, and TV commercials so as not to form any opinions about the film. It's rare these days that I actually get to see a movie without at least knowing what it's about, much less what the critics think about it, and knowing that I was probably going to review the film on this here blog (Hell, I need something to write about. 'Hi, I'm Eric and this is my blog. Hope you enjoy it!' will only go so far) I wanted to be as unbiased as possible. The idea of complete objectivity in any sort of journalistic endeavor is, of course, ludicrous but there's something to be said for striving towards it. That said, my two unobjective opinions going in were of the two headlining cast members - Penn and Kidman.

Sean Penn, in the few films I've seen from him, is a phenomenal actor but one who has a tendency to overact his roles - especially in recent films (Mystic River, for example.) Also, his range doesn't appear to be anything stellar... more often than not he seems to be playing a tortured soul who's able to make moviegoers waffle between feelings of saddened pity and extreme loathing for his character. Still, I find him a draw. If a new film is released and I see him as a main character, I expect good things... even if I am prepared to leave the film feeling like I've just been punched multiple times in the gut with a brass knuckle (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, notwithstanding.)

Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, I find to be one of the more overrated and irritating actresses of my generation. Known for taking on "challenging" roles, she is the quintessential Hollywood "it" girl, whom everyone fawns over and wants to have appear in their films. I remain unconvinced. If by challenging it's meant that she portrays a character who speaks English in an accent other than her native Australian - well then, she's one of the greatest actresses of all time. Every movie she appears in, she's got a different twang going on. In The Others it was British, in Cold Mountain it was Southern, in Far & Away it was (a bad) Irish.... Good Lord, woman - pick something. It's as if she wants to try every one them at least once before she hangs up her acting slippers. Granted, she does a superb job with many of them, however in her efforts to nail down the particular accent she never manages to nail down her character. Her acting could best be described as always decent, but never entirely believable. She is however, insanely attractive - so she's got that going for her - but even that's a bit deceiving. As good looking as she is, I'm always reminded of the token crazy girlfriend whenever I see her. You know, the one that calls you up at 2:00 AM and screams into the phone, "Tell me you love me or I'll end it now!!!" Whatever..... click.

So - those two minor prejudices aside let's move onto the film, shall we? The Interpreter was directed by Sidney Pollack (of Tootsie and Sabrina remake fame - that should have been clue #1) and in very short summation is a political thriller which takes place at the United Nations. Kidman plays the role of Silvia Broome - an interpreter (surprise, surprise) for the U.N. who overhears a death threat in the General Assembly room, of all places, late at night when she goes back to retrieve her belongings which she had left there during an evacuation earlier in the day. The threat, quiet as it was, was made against the African dictator of the fictional country of Matobo, whose name I can't remember but it begins with a Z (I want to say Zihuateneo, but that's the name of the Mexican city in Shawshank Redemption - getting my movies confused.) Broome, dutiful employee that she is, reports the threat to U.N. security who promptly call in the U.S. Secret Service and put an agent Keller (portrayed by Sean Penn) on the case. Much of the film's next hour is spent not in trying to figure out who made the death threat, but in watching agent Keller determine whether or not Broome was in fact lying about the whole thing. She wasn't and we, the audience, know this because we saw Broome overhear the death threat in the beginning of the movie, as it was happening - yet, we're still subjected to a tortuous hour of "To Tell the Truth" regardless - polygraph test and all. However, as Keller is trying to piece it all together, we also find out that Broome, rather conveniently, is from the same country as Zihuateneo himself (her accent is South African in this film) and has a particular interest in seeing him dead as three members of her family, among them her parents, were killed many years ago during his long reign of genocide. Further, also rather conveniently, the assassination attempt (for that is what it is) is to take place IN the general assembly room, WHILE Zihuateneo is giving a speech defending the genocidal tactics of his rule. And oh yes, I also forgot to mention that when Broome overhears the plan being discussed, she also is accidentally seen by the would-be assailants (although she doesn't see them) so now her life too, is in danger which makes Agent Keller now grapple with whether he should play the role of investigator or protector. Yawn.

The film continues - at length - from there throwing in lots more secondary characters and stranger plot twists as it progresses. About 1/4 to midway through the film, we're told by Penn's character that his wife (who is never seen, but is referred to) died two weeks ago in a car accident while on his way back to him after a bout of infidelity. Huh? Is this pertinent? (No, not really.) Why wasn't it mentioned before? (No idea - again it wasn't pertinent.) Good Christ, he just lost his wife two weeks ago - what the hell is he doing at work?!? (Got me - but it manages to make sure the tortured soul angle is covered.) And therein lies the problem with most of this film. Almost all films require leaps of faith on the audiences part - it's one of the drawbacks of the medium. When you tell a complicated story in a limited time span, it almost ensures that corners have to be cut somewhere. However, it's the films that get the audience to make those leaps without question - without the audience even know they're making the leap in a lot of cases - that are the ones that succeed. This isn't one of those films. There are just too many ridiculous coincidences, and too many outlandish scenarios which would never, ever occur in real life. Example? Kidman's character, Silvia Broome. Here is a woman who was brought up in an unrelentingly violent country in the midst of a civil war and whose parents are then killed as a result of said war. She then becomes a freedom fighter trying to topple the government she originally helped support in the beginning (oops sorry, forgot to mention this before, but we learn all about her sordid past as the movie goes on) before deciding that war is bad so she becomes a peacenik and attends non-violent protest rallies before apparently dropping everything and going to study languages at the Sorbonne, honing her skills so she could one day become an interpreter at the U.N..... Oh, come ON! You're trying to tell me they wouldn't have looked into her past BEFORE they hired her? You're also trying to sell me on the idea that someone of her background would become entangled in an assassination plot against her former country's dictator by mere coincidence? Pardon me for being cliche, but I think there's a certain line about a bridge for sale that's applicable here.

The films ending is equally as ridiculous, on many different levels. I won't go into any details for fear of giving it away, but suffice it to say if you're willing to suspend reality for a little while, you might actually enjoy it. Despite my rants in the previous paragraphs, The Interpreter isn't a horrid film. It actually has some really interesting plot twists and is for the most part very well-acted by both Penn & Kidman. But it's where those plot twists lead, and their eventual conclusion that then cause you to raise your eyebrows. That, and it was unnecessarily long - kind of like this review. One of the key moments in the film happens when Keller & Broome are discussing her family members deaths and Keller is about to say their names. Broome quickly shushes him, and says "We don't speak the names of the dead. When we do, it means we have let them go." One wished she didn't bother to silence him. She would have done us all a favor by letting them go twenty minutes earlier.

Final Grade: "Meh - wait for it to come out on DVD, and then if your first choice isn't available."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well said. And you're right, there were too many unbelievable plot lines... particularly the one that had Penn back at work 2 weeks after his wife's death. You're telling me Catherine Keener couldn't have found someone less preoccupied to help her save the world?

I would like to add that I tried to fall asleep during this movie.

7:08 AM  

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