by Eric Jeter
Clear Messages From ‘The Interpreter’
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In the not-too-distant future, these early years of the new millennium may come to be known as the age of zealotry, a time when opposing ideologies; Democrats and Republicans, Jews and Arabs, terrorists and monolithic governments, reacted against one another with such venom that right and wrong was shoved aside in order to achieve “the cause”. The “free at last” patience of a peaceful process has too often been disdained for an inciting war cry of “by any means necessary”. Like no other film in recent times, The Interpreter embodies this reality, presenting us with a penetrating suspense tale which sends a powerful message, but never forgets to entertain.
In The Interpreter, a female translator named Silvia (Nicole Kidman) accidentally overhears a conversation at the United Nations. Believing she may have uncovered plans for an assassination attempt, she reports the incident to the F.B.I. In a twist of fate, however, she not only finds herself the target of the investigation but also at the center of a violent foreign conflict destined to play itself out on U.S. soil.
Considering its terrorism theme and the pairing of two powerhouse performers, The Interpreter can have one flinching as it calls to mind forgettable films like The Siege, which starred Denzel Washington and Annette Bening, and The Peacemaker, which featured George Clooney and Kidman herself. But the latter seem to have forgotten something this film emphasizes: quality.
Almost immediately, The Interpreter reveals its commitment to drawing its audience in before unloading its thrills. While its story keeps one eye to an abyss of political corruption, the other emphasizes some absorbing dramatic themes. Development is gradual and unwavering, drawing together rhythmically unfolding sketches of characters and shifting circumstances until they explode all over the screen in disclosed secrets, incriminating evidence, and large pools of blood.
What drives the film more than anything, however, are the stellar performances of Kidman and Sean Penn. Kidman’s sophistication and graceful beauty constantly communicate innocence, and, not unlike some of her other roles, are used as tools to keep you unsure of her character’s real motives. Penn, who plays an FBI agent ever-skeptical of Silvia’s intentions, once again demonstrates his Oscar-caliber talents. As Tobin Keller, his persona is calm, almost prosaic, as if he’s been harshly sobered by the blows of a hard life. With a masterful sense of refinement, Penn gives him a business-like bluntness that, when properly coaxed, melts away into a caring sensitivity. He isn’t called upon for any inconsolable displays of emotion, as in Mystic River, but the sentiment he brings is unmistakably potent.
Against each other, Penn and Kidman are remarkable, often turning what might otherwise be mundane scenes into powerful spectacles of well-executed drama. Their characters engage in what could be called a tragic tango, one that imitates every graceful movement of romance but, because of mutual pain, is left with little hope of consummation.
The Interpreter succeeds because it effectively binds two unnaturally occurring elements: emotional gravity and political turmoil. It not only sends a clear message about fanaticism and the best path to peace, but also tragedy, and how its misery can be redeemed.