Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Interpreter translates into classic good film making

After seeing trailers for The Interpreter for weeks, months even, I was not exactly awaiting its release with baited breath. Though I admire Sydney Pollack a great deal, Nicole Kidman has recently hit that level of uber over exposure that makes me cringe every time I see her face in another trailer. As for her co-star Sean Penn, he is a very talented actor, but I found his performance in Mystic River to be a bit much, and certainly not the crowning achievement of his career to garner an Oscar. (plus the Jude Law comment at the Oscars this year was kinda douchey – admit it)

Based on the trailer(s) the plot of The Interpreter seemed like a run of the mill thriller, girl overhears a murder plot, murderers chase girl, girl is saved in the end. But to my happy surprise, The Interpreter was much more than that.

Done in the vein of an old Hitchcock thriller like “The Man Who Knew Too Much” or “Iron Curtain” the Interpreter artfully blends a story of political intrigue and turmoil with the personal journeys of two individuals on “opposite sides of the river”. Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, an interpreter at the U.N. who moved from a small African country, Motobe, with a dark history. Just as genre convention dictates, Silvia does indeed overhear the whispers of two men one night, who are apparently plotting the murder of Motobe’s leader, President Zuwanie, a man who was once praised as a liberator and activist but has since adopted the ways of corruption and bloodshed.

Sean Penn plays Tobin Keller, the federal agent assigned to investigate Silvia’s claim regarding the assassination. We see from the beginning that much like Silvia, Tobin is a haunted man, with a painful burden that is newer and fresher than hers.

As the plot unfolds, and the feds try to discover who is after Silvia and who is planning the assassination, Silvia and Tobin begin to unravel the mysteries of each other’s lives. The way that Kidman and Penn play out their scenes comes across as old-fashioned, but only in the classiest sense. For a moment I almost felt like I could have been watching Grant and Hepburn. There was a dignity in their performances, and in the screenplay that made this film feel unique and distinct from your average studio fare. The way the camera moved, the way the shots were cut together was as elegant as the way the actors carried themselves on screen.

Catherine Keener, who I am always a huge fan of, played Tobin’s partner, another federal agent. While not given that much dialogue or much to work with, she made a great deal of her part which she fleshed out with pregnant pauses and powerful silences.

Some reviewers have critiqued the lack of “action” in the film, complaining that it moved too slowly, and was weighed down by too much dialogue. While true that there were not as many action set pieces as might have been expected from this genre, it did not bother me at all. I became so engrossed in the time that was spent properly developing the characters and their relationships with one another, that I did not miss the excess “action”. As far as chases, explosions and the like, there was a fantastic sequence that takes place about half way through the film, which I thought was very well executed. Not only was the “subway/bus chase sequence” fairly original in climax, but Pollack ramps up the tension without being overly exploitative.

While there are five different writers who share credits on the screenplay for story and writing, the script was surprisingly devoid of that choppy, discombobulated feeling that one often gets when a script has had too many hands laid on it. The film is not without its flaws, but I was impressed at how deftly the film was able to touch upon such difficult issues and heart wrenching moments without disintegrating into emotional pornography.

On a final aside, I have to say one of the elements that I did think was missing in was an original costuming of Nicole Kidman’s character. Everything from the elegant architecture of the U.N (where the film was actually shot) to the international background of her character begged for her to don stylish peacoats and fabulous boots. Oddly enough, the costume designer decided to go more in the dowdy direction, with baggy khakis, white button downs, and hush puppies. This was a little disappointing, as I know Messr. Hitchcock would never let his leading ladies go on camera in anything that was wasn’t completely glamorous.

Fashion aside, I highly recommend The Interpreter. It is a smart, artistic, moving film that will remind you of the good old days, when film gave politics emotional resonance without dissolving into preachiness, and the stars took their time, both with each other and the audience.


Blogger Dave Cryer said...

Enjoyed reading your review. We saw it in Rhyl, North Wales, a couple of weeks ago and were a bit disappointed, but you've made me see some new angles to it.



1:43 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Glad you enjoyed the review. I've never been to Wales, but have always been intrigued to travel there.

8:29 AM  

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