THE INTERPRETER (Sydney Pollack). 124 minutes. Opens Friday (April 22). For venues and times see Movies, page 97. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Sydney Pollack 's slick new political thriller stars two big-name actors, some terrific footage inside the UN and a potentially gripping tale of murder, thwarted ideals and vengeance. Too bad all that doesn't translate into the smart, gripping movie it could have been.
After UN interpreter Silvia Broome ( Nicole Kidman ) overhears a plot to assassinate a visiting African leader, she comes under scrutiny by the Secret Service, headed by Tobin Keller ( Sean Penn ). Tobin and his partner ( Catherine Keener , in a role that obviously got truncated) soon discover that the impeccably dressed, flute-playing Silvia has a past. Turns out her parents were killed by land mines in her African homeland, and her activist brother seems to be missing.
Pollack's (Tootsie, Out Of Africa) last big political thriller was 1975's Three Days Of The Condor, and his discomfort with the genre shows. He has problems with pacing and doesn't realize we need more of Keener's trash-talking comic relief to bring the film down to earth.
He wisely puts most of his creative energy into two terrific sequences, one shot in and around a New York crosstown bus, the other the suspenseful climax that tries to out-Hitchcock Hitchcock.
But throughout the overly long movie, he and the high-priced actors are undone by the script's psychological mumbo-jumbo.
Like Silvia, Tobin is grieving his own loss. His unfaithful wife died in a car accident a few weeks earlier, and Penn, doing the Method thing again, looks like he hasn't slept since he won an Oscar. Their bonding moments feel false.
Kidman, like her Ozzie compatriot Naomi Watts, knows how to express fear and anxiety, which is good, because she spends most of the film in a state of panic. A few more shadings and her character could have been wickedly ambiguous, which would have made the film more watchable.
And what's up with that accent? It seems to have begun in Africa only to drown somewhere in the Atlantic.