Lost in Transition

Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) is assigned to investigate an assassination attempt, overheard by the United Nations interpreter Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman). The target is Dr. Zuwanie, the much-hated African dictator of Matombo. His murder is to take place during his speech to United Nations. Keller interrogates Broome, examines her beautiful face for telling signs and prematurely concludes she’s a liar. Now why would this agent be so antagonistic to a heroine we know to be telling the truth? It makes good drama on screen.

Despite being billed a political thriller, “The Interpreter” cheats in the sense that it exceedingly succeeds in drama than its political or thriller elements. It seems that the screenwriters endearingly developed the Broome and Keller characters and pushed everything else as a backdrop. As Broome and Keller continue to work together despite the initial friction, they find that they both lost loved ones. This intriguing bond keeps them close as they go through a limbo-like phase of overcoming grief. By the end, we are clearer on what transpired between these two lost souls than what exactly happened in the plot. The drama and plot should have complemented each other.

I don’t think I can “blame” the brilliant acting for the unevenness of the film. You can always count on Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn to employ emotional finesse to their roles. So I’d find fault with the average plot. For one thing, the plot takes too long to unravel and even if it picks up speed, it never catches on. Maybe this is because the favored drama took awhile to develop and therefore, the movie lagged behind the usual pace of thrillers. Sure, there might be intriguing moments of suspicion and paranoia, but it has its share of dull moments as well. An intellectual plot isn’t guaranteed to be always compelling.

On a positive note, the movie had the smarts to shoot on location. The General Assembly Room of the United Nations is something to behold. And I always light up every time I recognize my city of New York instead of some Canadian city subbing. From the city buses to the parks overlooking the river, the movie gets it right. I wonder how much better (or worse) the movie might have been if it were based on something substantially real. Would it be more believable? Could I have taken it more seriously? (On another note, would “Black Hawk Down” or “Hotel Rwanda” be any less of a movie if they weren’t based on actual events?) Maybe that was my problem with “The Interpreter.” I didn’t buy it but it still cost me $9.25.

Grade: C+