Film ó The Interpreter (R)

The Interpreter (R)

by Amy Diaz

The self-importance is spread on extra thick by the misery-mired Sean Penn and the white-manís-burden-carrying Nicole Kidman in the escapistly-entertaining thriller The Interpreter.

And by ďthrillerĒ I donít mean to imply any specific amount of suspense or excitement ó itís just a handy genre description for a movie whose action is limited, whose drama isnít particularly strong and whose overall tone is vaguely lecture-ish and annoying. Iíve seen The Interpreter called a political thriller but that it rather definitely is not. It does include politics but is no more a political thriller than a movie that contains a sex scene or two is a porn flick.

Actually, The Interpreter itself is something of a porno, a very specific, very nerdy porn movie ó United Nations porn. Nicole Kidmanís Silvia and ultimately the movie trumpet the importance of that organization and its ability to do good. All the while, the camera gives us loving and flattering looks at the United Nations campus in New York complete with a few money shots inside the General Assembly. Yeah, baby, thatís right, show us your diplomatic negotiations, thatís right, work it. Damn, your international watch-dogness is hot.

Eventually, even the sour Tobin Keller (Penn) gets all flush and amorous at the sight of international cooperation. Keller is a Secret Service agent who generally spends his days watching after diplomats with his partner Dot (Catherine Keener ó who gets most of the movieís best lines, especially in their opening scenes as they try to guard a diplomat getting a lap dance). Kellerís worn down by not only his job but also by his personal life ó which is so tragic itís almost laugh-out-loud funny. His regularly unfaithful dancer-wife died when one of her lovers rammed a car into a bridge overpass. All sad and drinking while listening to Lyle Lovett, Keller is pre-disposed to take the case of Silvia Bloom (Kidman) way too seriously. Silvia is a U.N. interpreter including, among her many languages, the African dialect of Ku. A one-time resident (her family were white farmers) of the fictional African country Matoba, Silvia now has only a house full of African trinkets and a tragic history to connect her to her past.

Naturally that makes it all the better that she is the only one to hear a whispered threat against the much-hated Matoban leader, who is coincidently scheduled to speak to the assembly in just a few days. Silvia tells the authorities and Keller appears to investigate the threat and investigate Silvia and eventually protect her as it becomes likely that she too is in some danger.

There are all sorts of questions that the movie doesnít answer about Silvia and the whispered threat she heard. The answers to these questions ó there is some suggestion of a double cross, of her involvement and of her possible use as a patsy ó might have helped push the movie up a level. As it is, we get some muddled explanations as to the hows and whys of all the movieís assorted Matoban plots. Who done it? You know pretty quickly and the movie ultimately confirms it by killing off its suspects. Why? Eh, the movie says, donít worry so much about the why.

For this squishness and the shoehorned-in lectures about The Importance of Diplomacy, The Interpreter is entertaining in a sort of CSI fashion for the way it explains the workings of an investigation of this kind. And, even if a lot of the African stuff does feel like someoneís lightweight world history class term paper, itís at least interesting to see a movie try to use international relations as a plot hook without resorting to stock bad guys and clichťd world-in-peril situations.

- Amy Diaz

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