The Interpreter Review

With typical Hollywood logic, the opening ten minutes of The Interpreter not only see Nicole Kidman’s titular U.N. employee lose her brother in some fictional African country courtesy of a corrupt government official responsible for mass genocide, but also overhear plans of an assassination attempt whilst returning to her work station late at night. A while later Sean Penn’s secret service agent (assigned to protect her) adds up the various coincidences, including some more which have cropped up since, and remarks on their “idiocy”. Not only is this a moment to have a little inward cheer, but also to wonder who was responsible for this particular line; pay attention during the opening credits and you’ll notice that both Scott Frank (Out of Sight) and Steve Zaillan (Schindler’s List) had a hand in re-writes. Indeed, it’s endemic of The Interpreter as a whole that rather than being engaging on a more general level, it instead proves interesting only in small, often ultimately inconsequential, doses.

Of course, in dealing with the U.N. and third world genocide, The Interpreter is afforded more than a little topicality (as does the presence of a suicide bomber and an exploding bus), yet strip away this layer – as we no doubt will in 10, 15 or 20 years time – and it becomes apparent that the film is ensconced in strictly familiar thriller territory. Seemingly intelligent people do stupid things, events conspire to provide a big set piece at half hour intervals, and numerous stock motifs come into play. Moreover, director Sydney Pollack takes the same approach he had previously adopted for The Firm and makes the whole thing seem unnecessarily long-winded. The entire first third of the film is occupied by an “Is Kidman lying?” subplot which is not only rendered useless by the audience knowing that this is not the case, but also serves as an awkward means of establishing her character’s background. Plus we have a number of other elements – such as the death of Penn’s character’s wife two weeks prior to the events of the film – which only makes The Interpreter far flabbier than it should be and often amount to nothing more than petty contrivances to ensure a neat and tidy ending.

But then Pollack is unlikely to be most peoples’ reason for watching The Interpreter. His directorial career – which has thrown up the good (Tootsie, The Yakuza, Castle Keep) and the bad (Random Hearts, Bobby Deerfield) in roughly equal measure – is too erratic for anyone to look forward to the next Sydney Pollack picture. Rather it is the stars – Kidman and Penn – who are the more likely selling point. Both are coming off respective runs of interesting, and often challenging, roles and indeed respective Oscars. Yet The Interpreter comes across as a sore choice for them; both prove engaging as they very often do, but as with the film itself (indeed, because of the film itself) they are never able to do much beyond command the attention through little moments (Penn’s grey hair, Kidman’s Julie Andrews accent) rather than a fully satisfying whole.

The Disc

The Interpreter arrives on disc in fine condition. The original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is adhered to and presented anamorphically, whilst the print is decidedly pristine without a single scratch or flaw. Indeed, Pollack’s muted greyish-blue palette is faithfully recreated (the slightly inky quality would appear to be intentional) and presents no technical problems. Much the same is also true of the soundtrack. Here we are offered a DD5.1 mix which is surprisingly dynamic for a film which gains most of drama from the dialogue sequences as opposed to its action. And as with the picture quality, it comes without noticeable flaw.

Also impressive are the range of extras, all of which steer clear from the standard EPK puff pieces. First up is Pollack’s commentary, an interesting if not wholly satisfying affair. At first he comes across as decidedly curmudgeonly but soon warms to the task and spends as much time talking about himself (in terms of his role as director and his many years of experience) as he does the actual feature. As such we get an involving track about how he views the filmmaking process (and one which isn’t afraid to question how successful he was with this particular venture) which is only let down by his propensity for long pauses.

Elsewhere, we find Pollack contributing to each of the four featurettes. The first focuses on the man himself and is often candid (“It’s hard to make a film that’s not embarrassing”) if let down by the lachrymose background music. The second sees him discuss the differences between widescreen and pan and scan (he describes this piece as “a plea for my colleagues and myself”) in a direct, but intelligent manner; surprisingly The Interpreter was his first to be shot in ’scope since Tootsie in the early eighties. And the remaining two take a look at the U.N. and the work of real life interpreters, respectively.

Rounding of the package we also have an alternative ending (presumably cut for being overly sentimental) and a handful of deleted scenes which, as Pollack notes in his commentary, were cut for being mostly inessential, although one does allow Catherine Keener at least one scene to get her teeth into (in the film itself her role is a largely thankless affair). Also present are a pair of trailers for two other Universal titles, The Bourne Supremacy and the forthcoming Pride and Prejudice.

All special features come with optional English or Russian subtitles.

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