johnlink ranks THE INTERPRETER (2005)

I’m closing in on 700 movie/review rankings and that sort of a sample size allows me to make some observations based on five plus years of logging every movie I see. One such note is that I’ll often go on genre runs without even thinking about it. This happens with horror movies a lot (especially in the fall). Currently, I’m in the midst of an uninterrupted run of thrillers with TAKEN, SPIDER-MAN (a stretch admittedly), IN THE LINE OF FIRE, AWAKE, and THE KILLING. Well, go ahead and add THE INTERPRETER to that list.


I watched THE INTERPRETER (2005) on 6.14.14. It was my second viewing of the film and first since around the time it was released on DVD.

Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman were both stars more regarded as A-level actors than box office draw when THE INTERPRETER was released. They signed on to a script which had a little more gravitas than your normal thriller and which promised Direction by a top-of-the-heap Director in Sydney Pollack. If they thought they were getting into Oscar range with a movie like this, they were wrong. But if they were seeking to entertain for a couple of hours, they succeeded.

Penn plays Tobin Keller, a Secret Service agent who has recently lost his wife. He is tasked with protecting a controversial incoming leader, Zuwanie (Earl Cameron). This is an especially difficult task because a United Nations interpreter, Silvia Broome (Kidman) inadvertently heard a threat on Zuwanie’s life by unidentified persons. Keller tells Broome that he is not there to protect her and the movie is as much about building their relationship as it is about stopping an assassination.

Both Penn and Kidman play their roles with skill. Penn is especially subtle, most powerfully when Kidman tells him about African traditions of treating the killers of loved ones. Penn registers this with a momentary twitch of his eyes, trying not to belie his feelings. It’s a nice moment, but the kind of moment which goes unnoticed in a script which paints African conflicts in broad dramatic strokes and which gets on its soapbox frequently about the differences between diplomacy and war.

If that makes this sound like a negative experience, it should be pointed out that this works as a suspenseful movie. It’s hard to take credit away for a film which wants to be more than it is but fails. With THE INTERPRETER, those attempts are merely worn on the sleeve more apparently than other movies. But nobody should be ashamed of this movie. Pollack directs it with intensity. Kidman and Penn are strong. The supporting cast is mostly forgettable save for Catherine Keener as the comic relief/partner and Cameron playing the shamed leader in another subtle, yet powerful, performance in his final scene.

While movies such as HOTEL RWANDA tell a story of brutality in Africa using actual events, THE INTERPRETER uses generic amalgamations of people and stories in the name of entertainment. While this is a film which wants to have an impact, its hard to look past its PG-13 violence and major movie stars and see it as more than just a Hollywood thriller.

That said, this is the sort of movie which you’ll put on and enjoy well enough. A few months later it will have blended with all the other espionage thrillers you’ve seen. You’ll vaguely remember it being good and find it again a few years later. You can rinse in repeat with THE INTERPRETER. It’s a good enough movie to visit every so often, even if it isn’t good enough to be the most memorable thriller in your collection.




FINAL SCORE: 6.25 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on June 15, 2014.

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