A very good political thriller from Sydney Pollack, "The Interpreter" isn't without some flaws, but it's mostly intelligent, suspenseful and well-acted. The picture focuses on Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), a woman currently working as an interpreter in the UN who grew up in the (fictional) African country of Matobo.
When working late one night, she overhears men plotting an assassination attempt on an African tyrant who is coming to speak there soon. The man apparently was well-liked when he started his reign, but has grown deeply corrupt over the years, not to mention paranoid. The men Silvia sees plotting spot her, and it's not too long before she finds herself in deep trouble. Afraid, she reports the incident and has her story investigated by Tobin Keller (Penn) and Dot Woods (Catherine Keener - an excellent actress, but maybe not the obvious first choice here. Yet, she works superbly in the role of the tough partner), two Secret Service agents who attempt to figure out who is behind the plot, and if Silvia's past has any link to the present situation.
Neither Tobin or Silvia trust one another, and during the first hour, the film slowly builds up the plot and gradually starts carefully revealing important tidbits. "The Interpreter" is a thriller that chooses to gain tension through plot, character and writing; although there are a couple of "action" moments, the majority of the feature is dialogue-driven. Although this isn't entirely successful, as there are a couple of little points where the 128-minute movie drags a bit, this is a mostly intelligent, well-constructed picture.
The film was actually shot in the UN, which - after reportedly quite a good deal of negotiation - allowed this movie to be the first to film inside. It's a remarkable location, and becomes something of a "character" in the movie. Technically, the film is stunning, with stunning cinematography by Darius Khondji, good sound design and fine editing. The performances by Kidman and Penn are not outstanding, but they are fine efforts and are quite good together.
If anything, Kidman could have not underplayed quite as much, the movie is a bit overly convoluted at times and there are a few loose ends here-and-there. Aside from those minor issues, "The Interpreter" stands as one of the better thrillers released in the last year or so.
VIDEO: Universal presents "The Interpreter" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Cinematographer Darius Khondji's crystal clear, superbly composed images are done justice here, as the presentation from Universal is one of their best in recent months. Sharpness and detail are exceptional, with no instances of softness or inconsistency.
Unfortunately, the presentation wasn't without flaw; there were some minor instances of edge enhancement, but aside from that, the picture appeared crisp and clean. No pixelation, shimmering or print flaws were spotted. Colors appeared well-rendered, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: I quite liked this Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. Despite being dialogue-driven during several stretches, the sound mix does open up a lot during outdoor scenes, with surrounds capturing cars going by and other street ambience. Surrounds also reinforce the subtle, enjoyable score by James Newton Howard, as well. Dialogue sounded dry, crisp and natural. The score and sound effects also sounded rich and well-recorded, as well.
EXTRAS: Director Sydney Pollack offers a good commentary for the film, as he discusses what attracted him to the project, shooting in the UN, working with the actors, casting, material deleted and production difficulties.
Praise must go to Pollack for including a documentary here on the benefits of widescreen. The documentary talks about the pros of widescreen, Pollack's feelings about pan & scan and shows comparisons of pan & scan to widescreen and how much information the pan & scan version loses in comparison to widescreen.
A couple minutes of deleted scenes are included, as well as an alternate ending that's similar, but I thought worked a little better than the ending as is in the final film.
Also included is a featurette discussing what it was like to shoot in the UN, and how the filmmakers were able to work with the United Nations in order to allow the production to shoot there.
A brief, but informative "making of" ("From Concept to Cutting Room") is a very interesting piece that has Pollack offering a thoughtful discussion on the specific challenges of filming "The Interpreter" (such as filming in NYC and starting without a finished script), as well as his general thoughts on directing. Finally, we also get a piece on real interpreters.
Final Thoughts: "The Interpreter" has a couple of draggy spots and some loose threads, but fine performances from Kidman and especially Penn carry the film nicely. The DVD presentation from Universal offers excellent video/audio quality, as well as a few good extras. Recommended.