Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Interpreter (2005)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Hollywood executives have long been afraid of rapid rise of anti-Americanism affecting the foreign markets - the only thing that makes many of their current products financially sound. United Nations also has PR problems of its own, since the last decade witnessed transformation from inefficient but generally harmless club of dedicated idealist into cesspool of corruption. Interests of those institutions, therefore, matched resulting in THE INTERPRETER, 2005 thriller directed by Sydney Pollack.

The protagonist of the film is Sylvia Broome (played by Nicole Kidman), woman who works in United Nations building as an interpreter. She grew up in Matobo, African country whose president Zuwanie (played by Earl Cameron), once hailed as great liberator, is notorious because of killings, ethnic cleansing and other forms of oppression. One night she overhears two men discussing the apparent assassination of Zuwanie during his trip to New York, where the dictator is supposed to address UN General Assembly, promise reforms and reconciliation, thus thwarting the moves to try him at International Criminal Court. Broome immediately informs the authorities and it is given protection by Secret Service agents Keller (played by Sean Penn) and Woods (played by Catherine Keener), part of the team that should keep Zuwanie alive during his visit. Keller, however, begins to suspect Broome and her story, especially when some details of her radical past in Matobo begin to come out, including some very personal reasons why she would like to see Zuwanie dead or removed from power.

Most of the viewers even remotely familiar with world's current affairs are probably going to recognise Matobo and Zuwanie as fictional substitutes for Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe. This is supposed to give real life relevance to THE INTERPRETER in order to make it something more than just another pointless Hollywood political thriller. Another thing that makes THE INTERPRETER different is the use of genuine UN locations in New York - a concession filmmaker more than apparently won at the expense of film's objectivity towards that institution. As a result, the protagonists uses every imaginable opportunity to underline the importance and usefulness of UN for today's world. This vision of UN is shared by many American leftists and liberals - including Hollywood filmmakers - who see pacifist UN as the only credible alternative to militant USA in the role of world's policeman.

This strong and not that subtle message is, however, buried under the mountain of cliches and implausibilities created by screenwriting committe which, reportedly, included five different authors. Sydney Pollack's old-fashioned by efficient direction only manages to hide those flaws for a while, because too many scenes feature unnecessary dialogue and completely needless subplots. One example is Sean Penn's character recovering from wife's death, and the film spends too much time on that, slowing the pace to a crawl. Another example is a character of Zuwanie's chief opponent (played by George Harris) who just happens to live in Brooklyn and use bus every day - only in order to provide film with its most spectacular, but least credible action scene.

But the worst flaw is casting of otherwise talented Kidman in the role which is less of a human character and more of an idealised vision of every Western liberal - beautiful, intelligent, environmentally conscious, with talent in music and refined cultural taste, multi-cultural to the bone and, last but not least, able to make right choice in the best possible moment. Her obvious perfection shatters any suspension of disbelief and destroys any resemblance of film to real life. Everything ends with a melodramatic fairytale finale that suggests efficiency of UN as a tool of international justice and peace - something with many people in places like Rwanda or Srebrenica would have plenty of reasons to disagree with. THE INTERPRETER could be watched, but it nevertheless leaves a bad taste of a film that made their authors feel good, while denying the same experience to the audience.

RATING: 4/10 (+)


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