Movie Review: The Interpreter


Much more to come on women in combat. I will give the Pentagon meeting report, as promised, but that is still a developing story. Please check back in. (Or subscribe on the left sidebar for email updates.)

Meanwhile, the weekend is here! And the Chairman gives us a review of The Interpreter. . .


Took the love of my life to see The Interpreter last evening. Found it very entertaining at one level, but not entirely satisfying at another.

Seeing aerial footage of New York was a great delight and who can complain about seeing a lot of Nicole Kidman. Plus, my wife works periodically at the UN so it was fun hearing her reactions to seeing the various places inside the UN –– the General Assembly auditorium, the delegates’ room and others. Also, though I really dislike his politics, I liked parts of Sean Penn’s performance.

But here’s where the movie fell short.

Sometimes when you are reading a really good novel and have to put it down, you get sucked in enough to steal time to pick it up again because you are anxious to see how one or more of the characters is faring in the story. I only got a little bit of that feeling while I was watching this movie and little to none of it when I was replaying the flick in my mind — something I can do for several days after seeing a really good movie.

Afterwards, I replayed elements of the film in my mind trying to figure out why I had such a lukewarm reaction to it.

There were parts of the script that kept me from caring about the two main characters. First, Sean as the grieving, cuckolded widower (FBI Agent Tobin Keller) was a bit too convenient and, though he was in pain, he never seemed as close to the edge as I would have been in his circumstances. Second, there was almost no question in my mind that Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) was going to survive . . . and come out with her face still as beautiful as ever. There was the close escape from the terrorist bombing that left her with some bloody scratches — and the silly business of Agent Tobin taking her directly home where he belatedly scrubbed away some of the blood rather than getting proper attention from trained personnel with bandages and disinfectant — but you just knew that nothing very bad was going to happen to her.

The painful backgrounds of the two lead characters should have made me feel sympathy for them, but neither reacted to their horrible losses in ways that I could relate to . . . or found believable. And, I was mystified when director Sydney Pollack failed to prepare the audience for major plot developments. For instance, what would have justified Keller’s immediate gut-level reaction that Silvia was lying in her statements to the police about an assassination plot? If Keller had correctly intuited that there was something more to the situation than she was telling, that would have made a sensible conjecture. But his caustic and cynical assertion that she was purely lying — when Pollack to that point had portrayed her as being a completely innocent, straightforward witness who happened to overhear a conspiracy — didn’t add up.

Most importantly, to be satisfying to me, a movie must tell some worthy truth about life. But the director and writers had something else in mind.

What they wanted was not just to tell a true-to-life story about a gripping real-life experience, but to show the audience their vision of what life could and should be in reaction to pure unmitigated evil.

Their roman à clef about a murderous African dictator might have benefited from a little less fiction and a lot more real insight into the human condition. They were pushing an ideology about the rationality and attainability of peace and personal redemption through adherence to the noble ideals of a mythical African culture. But this proved to be pretty thin gruel: Silvia herself, the spokesperson for this worldview, lost hold in the end on her pacifistic mysticism and was ready to exact revenge personally . . . at least until good Agent Tobin, to save her from herself, coaxed her away from the rage that, as we had thought all along, lay dormant and smoldering behind her carefully cultivated facade.

Still, if you’ve ever loved encountering New York at street-level, suspend disbelief for a bit and enjoy the soaring panoramic views on the big screen. . .


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