Since Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism and national security have been hot issues often making front-page headlines, and director Sydney Pollack’s “The Interpreter” plays off these very real fears held by some Americans in a thriller that brings terrorism back to New York City.
Late one night, Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), an interpreter for the United Nations, returns to the sound booth to gather her things she left behind after an evacuation. It is then that she overhears an assassination threat to an African president in a language she happens to understand. After she reports the threat, Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and Dot Woods (Catherine Keener), U.S. Secret Service agents assigned to protect foreign dignitaries, are called in to investigate.
Keller’s investigation, however, focuses more on the shady past of Broome, who definitely has her secrets. The complexity of Broome’s character is revealed as these secrets unravel throughout the film. Who she is, whether or not she is telling the whole truth, and where her loyalties lie remain a mystery that adds intrigue to this political thriller.
Kidman captures the vulnerability and determination of Broome, who despises the threatened President Zuwanie (Earl Cameron) because of the genocide occurring in her home country, but insists again and again that she has nothing to do with the threat on his life.
Meanwhile, Penn’s performance provides a perfect balance to Kidman. He shows Keller’s caution in trusting Broome, and as he slowly builds up trust for her and begins to care for her and her safety, another side of Keller is revealed.
The scenes between Kidman and Penn bring an emotional element to “The Interpreter,” especially when they reveal their tortured and tragic pasts. Keller always has what happened with his wife on his mind as he tries to move on by fully immersing himself in his work. And Broome’s concern for the people she cares about back home clearly motivates her in questionable ways.
The film does not necessarily resort to a typical Hollywood format by developing a romance between the two lead characters. Instead, their relationship remains mostly professional but a bond does begin to develop as they grow to know and trust each other.
Several scenes bring edge-of-the-seat excitement. Broome boards a bus with a militant Zuwanie opponent, a potential would-be assassin suspect and two undercover agents. As Zuwanie prepares to address the general assembly at the U.N. building in New York, intense moments build as Keller tries to piece together all the clues, as the minutes continue to count down, to find out who may be behind the threat.
“The Interpreter,” however, does not sacrifice an intriguing story for neverending action. The film takes breaks from the action to delve into character development and build on thought-provoking themes.
As Broome translates for the U.N., the confusion of language plays an important part in the movie. The word “gone” does not necessarily mean “dead” and not telling everything is not the same as telling a lie, Broome tells Keller to show him the problems of miscommunication, which, according to her, has led to wars between countries.
Oppression also surfaces in the film’s theme as the movie asks what is the best way for people to deal with genocide. Is it more efficient to take up arms and rise up against the government or should you try to go for a diplomatic approach by getting the help of an organization like the United Nations?
Death and how people deal with grief brings up yet another theme for “The Interpreter.”
“Revenge is a lazy form of grief,” Broome tells Keller, implying that murdering the killer of your loved one does not bring about closure.
As Keller and Woods work to find out who might be behind the assassination plot, if indeed there is one, the movie sometimes gets confusing. As the intricacies of the plot unfold and the many potential characters who could be involved begin to be brought to light, the story often becomes hard to follow. But, in the end, it all pulls together to make sense, and the confusion simply makes the tension more real.
Also, the movie contains several unbelievable moments that must be overlooked in order to truly enjoy the film. Somehow, Broome and two other characters are able to sneak in and out of a closely watched apartment building, making it either seem that the CIA and Secret Service are completely inept or these few people have mastered invisibility.
“The Interpreter” is definitely a movie for the times as it deals with the real issue of terrorism in a compelling and intriguing way.