An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

             There’s a lot to like in  “The Interpreter.”  The film is a first rate accomplishment for director Sydney Pollack and the crew of writers, photographers, and musicians who made it happen.  Manhattan as an island has never looked more beautiful than it does here.  Inspired camera work, often from the air, reveals the magical juxtaposition of water and stone that is simply out of reach for pedestrians and drivers who move at street level among the skyscrapers.  The whole movie is seen through an artist’s eye and is a big part of the pleasure that lasts from beginning to end. 

            Sydney Pollack is the first director to win permission to film within the United Nations building – at night only.  For those of us who have never been past the visitors’ area, the U.N. backdrop offers a perfect setting for intrigue.  The political thriller unfolds in the storied building to the varied beat of a fine score by James Newton Howard.  This is a man who knows how to use his music to tell us when to squint in apprehension.  An hour and fifteen minutes in, he begins to telegraph approaching tension, only to soften again before building to the final terror.  The rest of the suspense starts when a U.N. interpreter (Nicole Kidman) overhears an assassination plot.    

The writers, all of them, do something extremely clever here.  By inventing a bogus country and a language to go with it, they avoid having to comment on contemporary politics.  They don’t have to take a stand on anything.  The country is Matobo, the language is the language of the Ku tribe, the villain is Zuwanie, and the main character, is Nicole Kidman’s Silvia Broome.  Silvia grew up in Matobo, daughter of farmers; after an idealistic stint as an opposition rebel, she decided misinterpretation is the cause of most wars and became an articulate interpreter for the U.N.  On this night, she learns of an assassination plot planned for the impending visit of Matobo’s brutal dictator.

            Kidman has a field day with the role of the converted warrior.  She makes the pretend language her own and uses the heritage of her country to explain how she has become the person she is now – still the tough idealist, but believing in diplomacy, not war.  Kidman can hold the screen at will.  The measure of Sean Penn’s ability to do the same is that he makes an undemanding role seem crucial.  As a Secret Service man, he studies faces; as an interpreter, emotional and actual, Silvia deals with words.  Each appreciates the essence of the other. 

            For the requisite fireworks in a spy movie, there is a fine chase involving an explosion, helicopters, police cars and limos.  For the most part though, this is a pensive, provocative movie.  Kidman and Penn have movie star wattage that blends with the superb photography to give us all a break from our own realities, whatever they may be. 


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