Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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The Interpreter – Gripping work: Review

As a critic one is always afraid of getting so involved in a film that one may miss its flaws. Sydney Pollack’s latest offering, “The Interpreter”, playing in India from September 23 2005, put this critic in such a dilemma. But a day after watching the movie, essentially a thriller that tries hard to pass off as political, this critic found that he could hardly find much to quarrel about.

Nicole Kidman
“The Interpreter” is scripted so tightly that editor William Steinkamp must have found it sheer joy to be on the table. This is not to pay him any less credit for finally turning out a film that is so well edited that a viewer finds it extremely easy to follow the story. There are occasions in “The Interpreter” when three or four or even five scenes unfold one after the other, with each following a different thread, and yet when Steinkamp gets us back to the first or the second follow-up, there is absolutely no confusion. The flow of narrative is amazingly smooth.

If “The Interpreter” is a must see for this, there are other reasons as well. Pollack is the first director to have got permission to shoot inside the United Nations building in New York, a privilege denied even to a master such as Alfred Hitchcock. He tried to film “North By Northwest” inside the U.N., but had to be happy with just a few exterior shots of the imposing building. “The Interpreter’s” director of photography, Darius Khondji, has given us some great visuals of the General Assembly and other areas of this hallowed structure.

But how did Pollack get permission? There is one significant sentence in the film: Silvia Broome, played convincingly by Nicole Kidman, says she believes that it is organisations such as the U.N which can hope to bring order in this chaotic world being torn apart by wars and political unrest. With the world body’s reputation badly shaken after Iraq, it is quite possible that the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, felt that Pollack and his movie might help in some way to re-emphasise the U.N.’s importance as a peacekeeper.

But, when Silvia, who is an interpreter in the U.N., tells Tobin Keller (played remarkably well by Sean Penn) that she passionately believes in the ideals and goals of the U.N., he just smirks at her. Assigned to investigate her life and later to protect her, Tobin is a U.S. Secret Service agent, whose suspicion of and distrust for Silvia gradually turn into sympathy and fondness (love?). This sub-plot in the film is handled with extreme sensitivity, and so restrained is Pollack when he directs scenes involving Nicole and Sean that a great degree of authenticity is achieved. It all seems so real, and nothing appears contrived.

Nicole and Sean offer fine performances as their relationship endures an assassination attempt of an African head of state, political conspiracy, personal losses, and so on. Silvia’s parents were white farmers in the fictional African nation of Matobo, and they are killed under a tin pot regime, whose head, Dr Zuwanie, (an idealistic teacher turned criminal) arrives in New York to address the General Assembly. He is under the threat of an assassination, a plot hatched inside the U.N. that Silvia happens to overhear, and this puts her life as well in danger. Tobin has just lost his wife in an accident. Both Silvia and Tobin are grappling with tragedies, and Pollack’s “The Interpreter” narrates a story of disappointment and distrust that ultimately give way to understanding and tenderness. Nicole certainly adds one more feather to her long list of achievements, and Sean with his sense of detachment (can one see of hint of Brando in him?) is a pleasure to watch.

“The Interpreter” is an undoubtedly gripping work by Pollack.

(This review appeared in The Hindu dated September 23 2005)

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