The Interpreter

on April 22, 2005 by Annlee Ellingson
Alone after hours in a soundproof booth overlooking the General Assembly of the United Nations, interpreter Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) overhears whispers emanating from idle earphones. She picks up the headset and eavesdrops on a plan to assassinate the controversial leader of the African country of Matobo (made up for the film) during an important upcoming speech to the international body. The hitch is that the hushed conversation is in the Ku language (also made up for the film), and Silvia is among the few people in the world who speak it. Initially skeptical of her story during his investigation of the alleged threat, federal agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) senses that Silvia is holding something back and questions the veracity of her claims.

Unfortunately, the suspicion that Silvia might be involved in the plot is never fully exploited. Helmer Sydney Pollack, invoking his CIA thriller "Three Days of the Condor," deftly builds tension, particularly during climactic action sequences, but the film never convinces moviegoers to distrust Silvia. Had they, the twists and turns of the story would have been even more layered and nuanced. Moreover, certain developments are never satisfactorily explained, such as how someone with a past as checkered as Silvia was ever granted access to the U.N. in the first place.

What is most interesting about the film is its setting and how delicately it is portrayed. The first to shoot a movie inside of the U.N. since its erection in Manhattan in 1946, Pollack undertook a diplomatic mission of his own in securing from Secretary-General Kofi Annan the requisite permission, which could have been revoked at any time. Perhaps as a result, "The Interpreter" demonstrates a tangible reverence for what goes on within its walls--but without being didactic. The film portrays words--rather than guns--as possessing the power to instigate world war but also world peace. Starring Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn and Catherine Keener. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Written by Charles Randolph, Scott Frank and Steven Zaillian. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Kevin Misher. A Universal release. Thriller. Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexual content and brief strong language. Running time: 128 min

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