Directed by Sydney Pollack, starring Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Jesper Christensen, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron and George Harris.
Silvia Broome (Kidman) is a translator at the UN. A citizen of the African country of Matobo, Broome's parents and sister were killed in a landmine explosion as her home country descended into chaos. Her estranged brother still lives there, and Broome is traumatised both by loss and separation. Going back to her translator booth late one night to pick up her bag, Broome overhears two men talking about a plan to kill Matobo's hated leader President Zuwanie during his upcoming UN address. When she reports what she heard, secret service agents Tobin Keller (Penn) and Dot Woods (Keener) are assigned to the case. But does Broome know more than she's telling them?
Pollack's last film was the limp 'Random Hearts' but anyone hoping that 'The Interpreter' would hark back to the director's 'Three Days of the Condor' - or even 'The Firm' - is in for a letdown. A dramatic opening (bodies hidden in a football stadium) and a storyline which tackles genocide, terrorism and diplomatic wrangling should keep you on the edge of your seat, but many parts of 'The Interpreter' are completely flat. With Kidman's Broome grieving over her family and Penn's Keller devastated by the recent death of his estranged wife, the film feels like 'Random Hearts' with an assassination plot thrown on top. But the onscreen connection between Penn and Kidman never actually clicks and so, the emotional drama drags.
Much has been made of Pollack being granted permission to shoot in the United Nations headquarters in New York, but this attempt to make the film as authentic and relevant as possible is undone by dragging the plot down to 'The A-Team's level by basing it around a fictional African country. Even worse, the film uses pictures from Kidman's character's past in which the actress is so badly super-imposed that you wonder did a five-year-old do them in Photoshop while blindfolded. Clichés like the botched tailing of a suspect and the across-the-road stakeout also make an appearance and, aside from one decent setpiece on a bus with a bomb, the entire ending is a lesson in how not to create tension.
If you want to see the inside of the UN building take a look at the website because there is little to get excited about here. Three Oscar winners should have made a gusty, urgent film about even more urgent issues. Instead, 'The Interpreter' is as far removed from the glory days of 1970s political thrillers as many diplomats are from the suffering which they're presented with. Lost in translation indeed.