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Interpreter, The Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

"Thriller" isn't quite the right word to describe Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter. "Anachronistic" is a much better description because even with very contemporary subject matters like terrorism, failed diplomacy in the United Nations and-wait for it-actual communication between government agencies, the superstar-heavy film still unfolds like a relic of the past.

Maybe it's because we're becoming too jaded to enjoy a love story plopped in the middle of a complicated assassination attempt of an African prime minister on neutral UN territory. Or maybe it's because this tightly wound film comes undone with plot points predictable enough to set a watch to. Either way, don't get me wrong, any woman would love to trade their life with Silvia Broome's (Nicole Kidman), an African native turn UN interpreter who specializes in playing with words in many different languages including an obscure African language that she just happens to hear whispered by conspirators after hours in the UN meeting room. We wouldn't mind trading places with her and dealing with a death threat every once just to know what it's like to be ravishingly beautiful and wanted by Secret Service Agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn).

He's the emotionally vulnerable tough guy who can kill one of your enemies and have a good cry with you later. In fact, there are many ladies out there who would even take Penn in his I Am Sam character without hesitation. But when the ridiculous attractive onscreen couple share their first intimate moment, there's a strong feeling of betrayal on par with Maddie Hayes' and David Addison's indiscretion in "Moonlighting" or Agent Fox Mulder crawling into bed with Agent Dana Scully.

And with just one kiss (plus many other emotionally overwrought scenes), The Interpreter loses its credibility. But that's not to say there wasn't some romance in the courtship. Pollack does a good job of romanticizing a rote translation job and portraying Silvia as a purveyor of world languages when all she's really doing is repeating political platitudes. After hearing conspirators' plans to assassinate the leader of her native country, the romantic linguist collides with the cold reality of terror and secret service agents.

As the two storylines run parallel and intersect, they cut each off at the knees because the far more interesting plot (the political terror) becomes muddied in the silly love story.

The film is not without its merits. There is some brilliant fast editing in a key scene when Silvia comes face-to-face with an exiled African leader on a New York City bus. The results will leave you breathless, but the over-the-top acting from Penn in the next scene ("I lost a man today!" he bellowed Brando-like from the foot of a flight of stairs) can cause some acute cases of eyeball rolling especially when accompanied by the dull tempo of African language chanting music. The film is pregnant with this stereotypical music.

You just can't go wrong with a duo like Penn and Kidman, and really, they do nothing wrong. Penn is exquisitely angsty as usual and Kidman is the epitome of emotional fragility. There's even a surprise Pollack cameo (no brownie points if you identify it), but to take on a subject as challenging and timely as world peace and the UN at this juncture without pushing the envelope is a crying shame. The UN, as we initially see through Silvia's nauseatingly idealistic eyes, is a haven for peace and handholding across the aisle. Perhaps in post war Iraq, this is quite true and Pollack's personal political leaning is tissue thin.

But my heart didn't pound like the film promised. It fluttered ever so often but that may have been the Pepsi. My palms didn't sweat from clutching the chair's arms. In fact, they remained relatively dry because I kept flicking my wrist to look at my watch.

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