May 1, 2005

"The Interpreter" -- Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack

An excerpt from my review in the May 23rd issue of The American Conservative, available to electronic subscribers tonight:

"The Interpreter," starring Sean Penn as a Secret Service agent charged with protecting a Robert Mugabe-style African dictator visiting the United Nations and Nicole Kidman as a translator who overhears a plot to assassinate the kleptocrat, received a rather warm welcome from critics and opening weekend audiences because 2005 has been so lacking in Hollywood movies for grown-ups. One suspenseful set-piece tracking a terrorist on a Brooklyn bus temporarily justifies the movie's thudding, screeching score, but, overall, this portentous, inane, and interminable film gives maturity a bad name.

Directors seldom ripen with age, and the septuagenarian Sydney Pollack, maker of "Three Days of the Condor" and "Out of Africa," is no exception. We like to imagine that directors are artists with profound insights into the human predicament, but they more resemble battlefield commanders relying upon the charismatic confidence and sleepless energy of the prime of life, not the wisdom of age, to make countless quick decisions.

Imagine that after months wheedling permission to be the first to film inside the UN, it's the day to shoot the crucial encounter between Penn, so florid and furrowed, and Kidman, so pale and smooth. But your leading lady shows up with a pimple, and all that your make-up artists can do is powder it down to a not-quite-subliminal blemish on her otherwise flawless complexion.

So, do you call Kofi Annan and beg to be allowed back in a week when Nicole's lip has healed? Or do you throw out your planned close-ups? Or maybe you could backlight her? Your 120 or so highly-paid crew members are looking to you for decisions.

Pollack, though, just tiredly plows ahead, making uninspired choices that fail to encourage suspension of disbelief in the frequently ludicrous plot.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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