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The Interpreter
DVD disk
10.21.2005 By: Jason Adams
The Interpreter order
Director:
Sydney Pollack

Actors:
Nicole Kidman
Sean Penn
Catherine Keener

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Sylvia is an interpreter at the United Nations who accidentally overhears an assassination plot to kill a world leader. (Convenient, huh?) Secret Service agent Keller is assigned to protect her, but when he begins to investigate Sylvia’s past, he discovers she might not be as innocent a bystander as she seems.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
A decent, if not entirely average dramatic-thriller. THE INTERPRETER held my interest for two hours, but ultimately didn’t leave me feeling much of anything. You’ve seen this movie before—any Tom Clancy-Jack Ryan flick, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE SIEGE (even down to the exploding bus). Centering it around the current African political situation did bring a timely realism to the film, but it couldn’t make up for the by-the-books screenplay and performances.

Director Sydney Pollack has made some great films (just not any in the last 10 years) and his work here is thankfully better than his last movie, the Harrison Ford snoozefest RANDOM HEARTS. The trailers for THE INTERPRETER really played up its “twists and turns” which, save for the film’s inspired ending, were all but absent. Pollack plays the movie rather linearly and straightforward for a thriller, which is completely acceptable. However, it doesn’t help when every potential “shocker” has already been shown and discredited earlier in the film.

Nicole Kidman plays the wounded victim to a tee, and also maintains an air of deception—that “I could be lying to you, but I’m too adorable for you to do anything about it” shtick, which works really well in this movie. (Not in real life, ladies!) Sean Penn may not be my favorite person in the whole world, (lighten up, dude!) but I can always count on him to put in some seriously great acting work. Sadly, I could all but see the little autopilot switch on his neck activated for the majority of THE INTERPRETER, looking like a non-emotive robot for most of the movie. It’s as if Pollack’s one direction was “Sean, look intense! Great! Hold it…hold it…okay, now more intensity!” Penn and Kidman have a good onscreen chemistry, especially since Pollack was smart enough to not give into any forced romantic subplots, but a lot of their interactions and dialogue sound a bit too unnatural, even to the point of being childish. [RANT: I’m absolutely sick of hearing characters answer questions with other questions. Once or twice is clever, a few times is still okay (I’m a forgiving critic—it’s a movie after all), but in every freakin’ conversation...did I put in MATRIX RELOADED by mistake?]
THE EXTRAS
There’s quite a few special features for this standard edition, single-disc DVD:

Audio Commentary from Director Sydney Pollack: Pollack knows his stuff and his industry experience and storytelling skills make for an informative commentary. It’s not the most exciting track I’ve ever heard, but you can appreciate his insight and his authenticity in filmmaking (i.e. he went all the way to Africa to film the opening 2 minutes of the movie). Pollack admits that they didn’t have a finished script while shooting, mostly writing as they went along, and I’m sad to say that it shows.

Alternate Ending (2:58): Man, I hate test audiences. This original ending is much better than the film’s current schmaltzy conclusion. While this alternate version doesn’t change the big “twist” at the end, it tightens up the aftermath in a much more realistic and emotionally rewarding way. Stupid, lazy test screeners who don’t know shat about movies…

Deleted Scenes (2:21): Two quick scenes, one that addresses a pretty obvious subplot with Catherine Keener, and another that GIVES AWAY the end of the film. Why in the name of Peter Tork would you even film a scene that reveals the final surprise in the middle of the effing movie? Common sense, people.

Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room (10:01): Pollack talks for ten minutes about what movies mean to him, what it takes to make a film in all its stages, and straddling the line between actor/director. Mr. Pollack is a really great filmmaker and you get an honest sense of his experience after 40 years in the business. I just wish he took on more challenging, unique projects (and made more movies in general).

Interpreting Pan & Scan vs. Widescreen (5:08): Pollack hasn’t made a film in widescreen for 20 years, since televisions began butchering, I mean, panning and scanning films. (OUT OF AFRICA was actually filmed in fullscreen.) He shows you examples of how the fullscreen format can actually alter the filmic layers and intentions the director painstakingly chooses. A very fascinating and heartfelt plea, but I think most of America is aware of this already, especially with DVDs and widescreen TVs being so popular.

The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations (8:03): A short piece on the difficulties of being the first film ever allowed to film inside the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Pollack actually met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to obtain permission for this, which really helps the realism in the film.

A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters (8:18): Interviews with real UN interpreters as well as cast and crew, shedding some light on the process of “simultaneous interpretation,” which is much more than mere translating. A fascinating and more in-depth look at something that’s not covered too much in the actual film.

The disc doesn’t have any of the usual filler material…no theatrical trailers, previews for other movies (thank you!) or production notes, which is strange but I can’t say that I really missed any of them too much.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
There’s nothing invigoratingly fresh or heart-poundingly exciting about THE INTERPRETER that screams Rush out and watch me right now!, but if your at the video store and aren’t too thrilled about any of the other selections, you could do (a lot) worse than Sydney Pollack’s latest flick.
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