All animals communicate with those inside and outside their species, whether it's through sounds, scents, visual displays or actions. While humans still utilize some or all of those tactics, our communication has mainly evolved into verbal or written speech, a form that has both its advantages and disadvantages when compared with the others.
For instance, when was the last time that a dog from America and one from France couldn't communicate with each other (in a dog fashion obviously)? Yes, with speech came diversity and thus the plethora of languages and dialects spoken on our planet. While some people can speak many languages, most can't and thus the need for interpreters or translators. For those employed in such a profession, words and the proper translation of them are of utmost importance, and I can't think of a place where that's more key than in the United Nations.
Considering that and the fact that the suspense/thriller flick "The Interpreter" is set there (and was the first film allowed to shoot inside the actual NYC compound), the stage would seem fit for an offering where intelligent dialogue is paramount. For a while it is, but this latest offering from director Sydney Pollack ("Three Days of the Condor," "Tootsie") eventually boils down to a standard, race against time pic where the would-be political assassin must be found before they accomplish their task.
Aside from the lack of novelty (see either version of "The Manchurian Candidate"), that would be fine, but this offering turns out to be too long (at 130 some minutes) and too slow for its own good. While there are some thrilling moments, the filler between them, well, starts to feel like only just that.
As penned by Charles Randolph ("The Life of David Gale"), Scott Frank ("Minority Report," "Out of Sight") and Steven Zaillian ("Black Hawk Down," "Schindler's List"), this is one of those films featuring a witness (that being Nicole Kidman playing the title character), a cop-like figure (Sean Penn in Secret Service agent mode), a killer (no one you know) and a controversial political figure (ditto for the man playing him). Kidman's character thinks she's overheard an assassination plot, but Penn's is understandably suspicious.
What are the odds, he thinks, of her being in the right place at the right time to overhear two men -- on the main floor of the U.N. where there are lots of microphones and not much privacy despite it being nighttime -- discussing such matters in a dialect that only she and a handful of other people can understand?
Accordingly, he starts to question her and her claim (in interactions where miscommunication is the motif), all while dealing with a recent tragedy in his life (stemming, apparently, from his inability to communicate with his estranged wife who's now dead). The "fun" -- in a thriller sense -- is then supposed to stem from him trying to figure out the truth, all while racing against time to thwart the planned shooting. Along the way, we're then supposed to guess -- based on various clues the agent uncovers and those we see without him -- whether the interpreter is just an innocent aural witness, or is somehow involved in the plot.
Initially, it's an intriguing and mostly effective premise. Yet, after a while, we begin to realize that the story isn't quite as smart as it thinks it is or how we believe it should be. Thus, just when things should be heating up and the momentum building, the film proceeds with a tepid and not entirely engaging pace that's occasionally interrupted for some moments of action and suspense.
This is one of those cinematic efforts that turns out to be frustrating since we want and expect so much more from it. The "is she or isn't she" element regarding Kidman's character isn't structured well enough to keep us on our toes (compared, say, to that of Sharon Stone's in "Basic Instinct) and the overall effort isn't as entertaining as one of the director's more polished works, "The Firm."
Despite such limitations, the leads are fairly good in their respective parts, even if they're not terribly challenging for either. While Penn ("The Assassination of Richard Nixon," "Mystic River") might not stand out as much as he has in the past, one must recognize the part isn't as flashy as his previous acting gigs. Kidman ("Birth," "Cold Mountain") is also decent playing the woman with more of a past than we initially expect, and she certainly makes the film easy to watch, even in its slower moments.
Unfortunately, the terrific Catherine Keener ("Being John Malkovich," "Lovely & Amazing") is relegated to a standard-issue, sidekick role (but is nevertheless decent despite little substance to her character). The villains -- Byron Utley ("Malcolm X," "Awakenings") as the killer and Earl Cameron ("Revelation," "Thunderball") as the political dictator -- have almost zero personality or depth, and and Jesper Christensen ("The Bench," "Barbara") is too easy to figure out playing the head of security for the latter.
The film isn't bad by any means. Yet, throw in the slow pace, overlong length and a few "I doubt that would or could happen" moments (including why the dictator's appearance/speech simply wouldn't be canceled and other such implausibleness), and the film ends up feeling like one of those movies based on a novel where everything didn't translate properly from page to screen. Of course, since this is an original work, there can't be any interpretation of such an excuse. In the end, it's competently told and acted but otherwise not as exciting or smart as it could and should have been