The Interpreter (2005) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sexual content and brief strong language
Running Time: 128 min.

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Nesper Christensen, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron, George Harris, Michael Wright, Sydney Pollack
Director: Sydney Pollack
Screenplay: Charles Randolph, Scott Frank, Steven Zaillian
Review published April 20, 2005

The Interpreter is one of those movies that seems like it couldn't possibly miss, marketed as a nail-biting thriller with top-notch actors, featuring a director who has excelled at making just these kinds of movies.  Then you actually watch it, and it is everything but thrilling.  The first thing I can tell you, if you absolutely must see it, is that the latest thriller by Sydney Pollack (Random Hearts, Sabrina) is not a pure thriller at all; it's a talky political drama with a couple of moments of moments of good tension.  The next thing I can tell you is that, even taking it on its own terms as a political drama, the dialogue and events of the film are just not interesting enough for most moviegoers to bother trying to follow.  So what are we left with?  Two very good actors intoning lifeless dialogue about muddled events happening in a fictitious country.  In short, who cares?  It's a far cry from the nail-biting suspense you see in the trailers and TV ads.

The Interpreter casts Nicole Kidman (The Hours, Birthday Girl) as a white African-born United Nations translator named Silvia Bloome, who claims that she was an "ear witness" to a threat involving the possible assassination of the head of Matobo, her native country.  This little tidbit also puts Silvia in harm's way, so it is up to the Secret Service, led by agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn, The Assassination of Richard Nixon), to protect her, as they try to see if what she is saying is true, and if so, how they can stop the assassination before the leader addresses the UN General Assembly.  The more Tobin finds out, the more he begins to wonder whether or not Silvia has ulterior motives to intentionally lead them down the wrong path.

There are a few good moments here and there, but Pollack is never able to string enough of them together to keep the momentum going.   It's hard to determine just what is missing, as The Interpreter is written by three solid screenwriters, Charles Randolph (The Life of David Gale), Scott Frank (Minority Report, Out of Sight), and Steven Zaillian (Gangs of New York, A Civil Action), although the plot does often become murky and convoluted.  With so much talent on board, chalk this one up to being a bad idea for a movie to begin with.

The Interpreter is a classy but flaccid drama that may only have some modest appeal to fans of the stars, or people who are interested in the allusions to African politics.  Perhaps this seemed like a good idea in the development stages, but despite being developed by an A-list cast and crew, something seems to have gotten lost in the translation from script to screen.  The only things you might find worth interpreting are the dreams you'll have during the nap you take while this movie is showing.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo