The Interpreter

In Sydney Pollack‘s film The Interpreter (2005) Nicole Kidman plays a United Nations interpreter, Silvia Broome. One night after a security scare Broome goes back to the United Nations to get some of her belongings that were left behind in the evacuation. While she is there she overhears an assassination plot, the men plotting the assassination see her and she runs. The target of this assassination plot is Edmond Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), the dictator like president of Matobo, who is accused of genocide (ethnic cleansing). Zuwanie plans on visiting the United Nations in order to address the General Assembly where he hopes to plead his case, so he does not have to be tried in the International Criminal Court. Due to the threat on Zuwanie’s life the Secret Service is called in to investigate Broome’s claim and protect Zuwanie when he arrives. The agents in charge of the investigation and protection are Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and Dot Woods (Catherine Keener). Keller and Woods dig into Broome’s assassination claim, that is in fact valid and means they will have to protect Zuwanie upon his arrival. As Keller and Woods investigate Broome’s clam they investigate her and her past, which is filled with violence and grief, the violence and grief are tied to the fact that Broome grew up in Motobo. Because of Broome’s past Keller questions if she is a potential victim or suspect.

Ebert admires that the film “enters the terms of this world — of international politics, security procedures, shifting motives”. I too applaud how this political thriller discusses international politics, like genocide, a sad fact of the world that is usually hidden Hollywood films. It makes one uncomfortable to see the dead bodies at the opening of the film, piled on top of each other in an abandoned stadium. And it is just as hard to watch children shoot adults, because their teacher (Zuwanie) instructed them too. Unfortunately it is a reality in the world today, which should not be ignored, and is covered tactfully in the film.

Most of the main scenes in the film take place at the United Nations, where talks other than that of genocide take place, keeping with international politics of the world today. I was excited to find out that the scenes that take place at the United Nations were actually filmed there. It was also the first films to get approval to shoot inside the United Nations.

Security and security procedures fill the film, which is clever considering the alerts and security measures taken in the USA since 9/11. Because Broome reports the assassination plot by herself she is questioned and investigated. Keller does not trust her because she of her horrible past in Motobo. This distrust of Broome mirrors that of the distrust of citizens from other countries that are opposed to the USA. It is also interesting to see and hear about the security measures taken for a man that most of the world, including the USA does not like. Teams are created to follow possible assassins and Zuwanie’s enemies. Keller even tells other agents how to kill a man without setting off a detonator, in case of a suicide bomber.

In the world today leaders and people’s motives shift and change. Zuwanie started out as the liberator and savior of Motobo, but over time that changed. Zuwanie had people starved and shot them to keep order and control in Motobo. Broome’s motives through her life changed. After her family was killed she fought against Zuwanie, and man she had previously respected. During the film Broome is working at the United Nations, promoting peace and tells Keller that she does not want Zuwanie dead. As Pollack says in his guest appearance in the movie, “the last thing we can afford is to have some foreign leader get popped on our soil, particularly a guy like this that we don’t like”.

As Keller investigates and protects Broome the two of them become close, but their closeness is not romantic, which I find, like Ebert to be a relief. In his review of the film Ebert says, “For once, the players in a dangerous game are too busy for sex — too busy staying alive and preventing murder”. Broome and Keller’s closeness is “based on shared loss and a sympathy for the other person as a human being” (Ebert 2005).

Kidman, Penn and Keener all perform well in the film. Kidman is not her normal glamorous self, but rather a real person, with real convictions, real fears, and secrets. Penn is a devastated agent working to get his mind off tragedy, and has many ideas. Keener’s character supports and aids Keller, but there is not much to say about her. However the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Keener as Best Supporting Actress in 2005 for her work in several films including The Interpreter (2005).

The film employs African chants, songs and dance at key times to help remind the audience about the country in need, Africa. African people on the streets of New York that sing and dance that appear throughout the film. At the end when Broome says she is going home an African song plays in the background as she leaves Keller sitting outside, the New York skyline behind him, accented with yellows and oranges.

The Interpreter (2005) is filled with suspense and mystery. Who is the assassin, where and how will Zuwanie be killed or will the agents save him? Is Broome a victim or a suspect?  It is both a drama and a thriller, there are intense moments and moments of action. Where some critics say the film was not good, I found it to be very intriguing. Is would venture to say that the film was not a flop due to the fact that it made so much money at the box office. I would guess that it made that much money due to the big names in the film and the fact that the film is controversial, film that has to do with politics often are. The Interpreter (2005) is not a happy film, but no film that discussed genocide and the politics of the world today should be. If you are looking for a film with action and suspense, and a hint of reality look no further.


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