"The Interpreter": a first class political thriller

April 24, 2005, midnight | By Kiran Bhat | 17 years ago

At first it seems like a typical action movie. Secret service agents, gunfights, terrorism, plot twists, it has all the elements. But beneath the surface, "The Interpreter" is a gritty thriller, one that doesn't shy away from the complicated and brutal politics of its subject, postcolonial Africa, and one that explores raw human relationships to the fullest extent.

Director Sydney Pollack ("The Talented Mr.Ripley") uses the first series of scenes to set the tone. Two men walk into a shoddy stadium. Three children stand kicking around a soccer ball. The men go to examine dead bodies elsewhere in the stadium, and on their return, the children are armed with automatic rifles, gunning them down, shots echoing, blood spattering. Young mercenaries have just executed two opposition leaders, but the men who hired them remain unseen. This is the entirely too true world of fictional Matobo, Africa.

Pollack paints an incredible picture of Africa, but an even better one of the United Nations (UN), where the bulk of the story takes place. Essentially, UN interpreter and white Matobo native Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman, "Cold Mountain") is in New York City's UN headquarters after-hours and overhears a plot to assassinate Matobon President Edmund Zuwanie (Earl Cameron, "Cuba"), who is due to speak at the UN to defend himself from accusations of ethnic cleansing. Broome reports the incident, but struggles to deal with issues stemming from her own connection to opposition parties fighting against Zuwanie back home.

As the movie progresses, Broome develops an on-off relationship with Tobin Keller (Sean Penn, "Mystic River"), the secret service agent assigned to protect both her and Zuwanie. Hardened by the loss of his wife, Keller feeds off of Broome's sentimental proclamations on the righteousness of forgiveness (something only two amazing actors can pull off without being mushy). But after all the speeches, Broome's own resolve is tested when she is faced with an opportunity for vengeance.

The excellence of this film really lies in two elements. First, the political plot twists so many times it's hard to count. Following the movie is not as hard as, say, reading "War and Peace," but it's quite intellectually stimulating for a thriller. Second, the acting is near perfect. Kidman and Penn both give it their all, and create the sense of tension that starts when the lights dim and does not stop until they turn on again. The only problem with the acting is Kidman's outrageously bad attempt at an Afrikaner accent. That aside, the acting is brilliant and even the auxiliary characters play their roles to perfection.

"The Interpreter" doesn't stop there. To build on a foundation of sound plot and solid acting, the film has absolutely incredible cinematography. Amazing exterior takes of New York City coupled with shimmering shots of the UN building kick off practically every important scene on a good note. They add to the movie's realism and give viewers a sense that they're there.

Two years ago, the launching of the War in Iraq usurped the attention of the real UN from far more dire a need in Africa. Although the real UN has all but lost interest in the embattled continent, films such as this one keep Africa in the public conscience. "The Interpreter" is in a class of its own, a film that mixes political intrigue, social commentary and heart-pounding suspense better than any movie of the past decade.

Kiran Bhat. Kiran Bhat is a senior who loves the Washington Redskins, 24, Coldplay, Kanye West, Damien Rice, Outkast and Common (Sense). He aspires to be the next Sanjay Gupta. He will miraculously grow a Guptaesque telegenic face and sculpted body by the age of 30. In … More »

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