Saturday, April 23, 2005

REVIEW: The Interpreter

WARNING: Some entries here may or may not be regarded as spoilers by some. Read on at your own risk.

Personal fact: I graduated College with a degree in Art. Having offered this context, let me make an overtly Art Major's observation about "The Interpreter": It plays as a movie very similar to the vibe one gets looking at especially empty examples of "minimalism," in that it does very little, means even less and expects to be congratulated for these facts.

Here is a suspense film without very much suspense, a story of political intrigue that sports about as much real "political" insight as the average suburbanite "Rage Against The Machine" devotee and isn't very intriguing at all. A non-thrilling "thriller-lite" with a bead drawn on yuppie psuedo-sophisticates who'll file into it eager to be made to feel smarter just for seeing it and, in many cases, to turn up their noses at all the "rabble" heading for the showing of "Kung-Fu Hustle" across the hall.

At least the performances, though not in service of much, are good. Nicole Kidman leads as a United Nation's interpreter who's pretty sure she's overheard someone plotting to asassinate a visiting dignitary in the obscure dialect of her African homeland. Sean Penn is a bitter, jaded Secret Service agent (why yes, in fact, he IS a self-destructive lone-wolf owing to the recent loss of a loved one to tragedy.. how'd you guess?) who's assigned first to investigate he claims and eventually to protect her when she seems to be in danger from whoever may or may not be "behind it all."

Without spoiling any major details, the over-arching storyline is about the propensity for revolutionaries to morph into dictators (particularly in war-torn Africa) and the questions of whether or not counter-revolutions to stop them can accurately be described as "terrorism." Meaty stuff, yes, the "The Interpreter" is only concerned with the thinest, most easily-digestible cuts of such: It's shockingly easy to tell who the surprise-baddie is going to be from the moment he walks onscreen, especially if you're even a casual student of politically-correct movie cliche's and thus aware of the standard "out" used by films involving African turmoil hoping to avoid the P.C. taboo of making a minority the bad guy.

But, then, the movie really isn't concerned with the goings-on of the story-proper; it's concerned with it's lead characters. More precisely, it's concerned with their suitability as talking-head avatars in what amounts to a pretentious parable about differing approaches to disagreements (read: wars), with Kidman's willowy pan-Euro class representing the virtues of U.N.-style debate and diplomacy and Penn's swaggering macho-stoicism standing in for over-aggressive American vengefulness. Three guesses which side makes a convert of the other.

These are, of course, themes worth discussing and a debate worth building a film around, but not when the deck is so stacked to one side that the characters become one-dimensional editorial cartoon figures. Once you've figured out what the film's message is, every event of it's story becomes instantly predictable, and regardless of which side of the argument you fall on it just makes for dull, uninspired filmmaking.

Failure of story-mechanics aside, the film on the visual level is otherwise totally routine for the genre: steely gray-green vistas of perpetually overcast New York, womb-like amber-hued leading lady apartments, agents pounding back starbucks while staring out of stakeout windows, the obligatory single scene featuring a giant fireball of an explosion included so that the trailer can snare some wayward action fans, people snapping crucial photos from park benches, multi-tiered chases scenes linked by cellphones and radios... you know the drill by now.

Nothing terrible on display here, but certainly nothing unexpected or worth talking about either. It's not going to rot any brains, but it won't be expanding any either.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely spot on review. Only went to see this piece of kak because my wife and I are from South Africa and heard Sydney Pollcak in person, speaking about this film. I would have awarded it a generous 1/10. Mike R, Seattle