The United Nations. One of the most secure and important buildings in the entire world. Not much can happen inside this building without it being closely monitored and investigated if necessary. So, when the genocidal president of an African country is threatened with an assassination, the secret service springs into action in order to prevent the president and the witness from being killed. Sound like an intense and intriguing political thriller? Well, yes and no.
In The Interpreter, Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, an interpreter for the UN translating for the fictional African country of Matobo. Late one night she overhears a conversation in Ku (the language of Matobo) concerning an upcoming assassination on the genocidal Matoban president Edmond Zuwanie. Secret Service agents Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and Dot Woods (Catherine Keener) are hired to protect Silvia and prevent the assassination of Zuwanie. But not everything is what it appears as Silvia’s dark past catches up with her and makes her just as much a suspect as she is a witness.
There are quite a few interesting plot points and character developments that sets this film a little bit higher than the average political thriller. Even though we want Keller to prevent the assassination of Zuwanie, we still recognize that he is a terrible human being who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Normally he would be a villain who the audience would like to see wiped off the face of the earth, but not in this film. We strangely want him to survive and meet justice in the more legal sense.
The relationship between the characters also help individualize this film. I’m sick and tired of the obligatory romance between characters that really serves no purpose other than to give the film more layers. Fortunately, this is not a problem in The Interpreter. Human emotions are expressed in this film, but they never feel forced. This is due to Sydney Pollack’s skill in directing and the talents of both Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.
The few action scenes that this film has are very good indeed. Pollack creates a lot of suspense before they happen that would please any Hitchcock fan, and the outcome is just as good. There’s a scene involving many different characters ending up on the same bus without intending to. That scene literally explodes with excitement and anticipation. Much of the action actually takes place inside the U.N. which is really impressive. Pollack had to negotiate a lot with Kofi Annan, the head of the Unite Nations, in order to be allowed to film in the many different rooms and corridors. They could only shoot on weekends and be prepared to leave immediately if an international emergency were to arise.
This is still not a perfect movie by any means. A lot of times I found myself getting disinterested during some of the scenes involving hefty amounts of dialogue. This is a dangerous problem that plagues many political thriller movies. Films full of intrigue and international affairs need your full attention, especially if the film is moving at a fast pace. Fortunately, this movie isn’t very hard to follow, so if you find yourself losing attention, you won’t be left in the dark.
But the pacing of this film is exactly the problem. It is stretched out for a little over two hours when it could have easily been an hour and forty minutes. Even though that’s just a difference of about half an hour, The International stills feels too long for its own good. And on top of that, the ending is not all that satisfying. I read that the ending in the film wasn’t the original ending. The ending they originally had in mind would have made more sense to me and would have made me feel like the movie’s plot came full circle.
For me, political thrillers are either really good or really bad. Strangely enough, this one falls right in the middle. It has a pretty interesting plot with some nice twists, great performances, and unique character development. It also went on too long, had scenes that didn’t really serve much of a purpose, and an unsatisfying conclusion. It isn’t a bad movie, in fact, it’s pretty good. If you’re looking for a movie just to fill a couple empty hours of your afternoon, this is an ok choice.