Archive for Friday, April 22, 2005

Interpreter’ gets lost in translation

(PG-13) **

April 22, 2005

Star Nicole Kidman reportedly signed on to "The Interpreter" without having read the script.

Had she skimmed a few pages, she might have changed her mind -- or at least began asking enough questions about the plot to generate some revisions in the pre-production phase.

The film certainly starts with a nifty premise. But the slickly packaged thriller becomes bogged down and eventually engulfed by its bewildering lack of rationality.

If the national security agencies portrayed in the movie really behaved this sloppily, the United States would have long ago been overthrown by Canada or Mexico.

Kidman stars as Silvia Broome, an African-born, United Nations interpreter who intercepts an assassination plot aimed at the butchering president of Matobo. When she learns the leader will be speaking to the United Nations in an effort to convince the assembly his genocide is really a war on terror, she decides to report the threat.

Meanwhile, depressed Secret Service bigwig Tobin Keller is drowning his sorrows at a bar when he gets the assignment to protect Silvia. Not convinced of her story, Tobin becomes increasingly drawn to Broome, even as evidence begins to surface she may have more than a coincidental connection to her homeland dictator.

Director Sydney Pollack is no stranger to political thrillers. His "Three Days of the Condor" (1975) is among the finest in the genre. For the most part, Pollack delivers a film that is well-shot, well-acted and well-paced. It features one extraordinarily tense sequence involving a multitiered stakeout in Brooklyn that eventually converges. This piece might have redeemed the movie had it occurred at the climax rather than the middle.

However, Pollack can't overcome the script, which is credited to five different writers ... never a good sign.

Novice screenwriters often equate good dialogue with good writing. But they need to concentrate on the STORY above all else. "The Interpreter" has consistently punchy, realistic conversations. (When Silvia is wired for a polygraph test, Tobin asks her, "Can I get you anything?" She responds, "How about a hood.") Yet the actions of the characters -- from Kidman to the security forces to the villains -- become inexplicable.

This leaves the viewer with so many questions that they start to drown out what's happening on the screen.

Why do the bad guys consider Silvia a threat to them after it's clear she can't identify their voices?

Why wouldn't the Secret Service immediately isolate/incarcerate someone who posed a credible danger to the United Nations?

How do three opposing forces all end up on the same city bus, when none of them knew the other was going to be riding it?

How does a lowly interpreter gain sole access to a U.N. security "safe room?"

How did the same actor who played Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" suddenly become the most humorless man on the planet?

Much has been made of the fact "The Interpreter" is the first movie ever to be shot inside U.N. headquarters. Pollack gained permission by filming only on weekends and by cutting a deal with Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the picture would be shot entirely in New York with local crews.

It's nice to know the setting is as realistic in this instance as a film could get. Too bad few other aspects of "The Interpreter" are believable.

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