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African born Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), one of the many interpreters working at UN headquarters in New York, overhears whispered details of what appears to be an attempt to assassinate the autocratic Head of State Edmund Zuwanie (Earl Cameron) from the continent's oppressed Matobo, when he addresses the General Assembly. She advises the authorities and the dignitary protection team of recently widowed Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and his professional partner (Catherine Keener) are sent in to find the assassin/s and avoid a terrible international political incident. Keller gets suspicious of Silvia, whose links to anti-Zuwanie activity begin to surface. The chase gets deadly and Keller looks set to fail as shadowy figures emerge behind the assassination plan - which is not what it seems.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You can always rely on Sydney Pollack's intelligence and his gifted filmmaking; his authority on screen as an actor is matched by his ability as a director to wrap a thriller around some serious material, so that we enjoy the action but there is something larger and important supporting it. This is underscored by the DVD's 10 minute career interview/making of interview when he talks not only about the crazy start to making The Interpreter (without a script) but about his life and his thoughts on filmmaking in general.

This interview continues in the 'pan and scan v widescreen' featurette, where he explains how he always shot in widescreen - until tv started buying films and showing them in pan and scan, which he hates. He even shot Out of Africa in 4:3 to appease the tv format, which he regrets. The Interpreter is the first film since that he's made in widescreen, a format which gives the audience much more visual information and more context. Now, with DVD offering the original ratio, he is back to happy widescreen.

The Interpreter begins with subtle establishing scenes, carefully crafted and showing us just enough to capture our imagination without letting on too much detail. We see only glimpses of character as Silvia (Nicole Kidman) does her job - cool and professional linguist that she is. We are made sufficiently familiar with the physicality and atmosphere of the UN HQ, although this is where Pollack has to pay the price for being allowed to film in the building - a cinematic first. Of course he can't afford to bite the hand... and we see none of the underbelly of this organisation's wheeler dealing. We see only its noble front, and the film gives the credit to the UN for the humanitarian resolution. We wish it were so.

On the DVD (Inside the UN) we learn that it was Kofi Anan's personal intervention that allowed the film crew into the building, once he was satisfied that the film would speak to the broader goals of the UN.

But setting aside the film's pissing in the UN's pocket (or is it showing the UN how it SHOULD behave?), it's an effective, and engaging work with both stars delivering terrific performances, using subtle twists to separate these characters from any they have created before. Sean Penn's characteristic inner turmoil is still there, displayed in his eye movements, his lips, his head tilting gently to one side. But there is also a deeper resonance to his Tobin, not only because he has just lost his wife in terrible circumstances, but because the subject matter is close to his political interests.

Nicole Kidman tackles Silvia with a strange little accent that defies identification but works to establish her as an outsider in New York. It's a fictional accent from her childhood upbringing in fictional Matobo gave her that, and it gave her all the other elements of her present personality that we discover piece by piece, as we learn of her family's fate and the role of dissenter that she once played. It's a difficult role, requiring subtle but constant evolution of the basic character in a way perhaps best described as reverse metamorphosis: she has to take Silvia on a psychological and political round trip, while retaining her sincerity, but Kidman nails it.

If we imagine that Matobo stands for Zimbabwe and Edward Zuwanie stands for Robert Mugabe, the film acquires even greater political edge and relevance - but only with the ending chosen. The DVD has the alternative ending, which is a politically romantic fantasy showing Zuwanie repentant before the UN General Assembly. If only ...

Published August 18, 2005

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(US, 2005)

CAST: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Jesper Christensen, George Harris, Byron Utley, Sydney Pollack, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron

PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kevin Misher

DIRECTOR: Sydney Pollack

SCRIPT: Charles Randolph, Scott Frank, Steven Zaillian


EDITOR: William Steinkamp

MUSIC: James Newton Howard


RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes



PRESENTATION: Widescreen 2:35:1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Sydney Pollack audio commentary: Pollack at work (from concept to cutting room); Pollack demonstrates the differences between pan and scan and widescreen formats; inside the UN building in Manhattan; alternative ending; deleted scenes; a day in the life of real interpreters.


DVD RELEASE: August 17, 2005

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