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Thread: The Interpreter

  1. #16
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    Found in Translation

    Directed by Sydney Pollack, The Interpreter, is an intriguing and suspenseful thriller with political aspirations (albeit of the armchair variety), and it works in a way that thrillers of yesteryears used to. Films like The Manchurian Candidate, The Parallax View, and Pollackís own Three Days of the Condor succeeded by convincing the audience to uncover their taxonomies, and while The Interpreter doesnít quite reach that level, itís still an agreeable effort. Nicole Kidman (blonder than ever before) plays Silvia Broome, a Sorbonne-educated interpreter at the U.N. who was born in the U.S. but raised in Africa. One night she overhears a snatch of conversation involving a possible assassination attempt on a genocidal African leader about to address the General Assembly. But after a subdued secret service agent, Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), and his partner (a wonderful Catherine Keener) get involved with the case, Silviaís enigmatic history becomes the focus (she has ties with the country and the leader in question -- [country of Matoba and its language of "Ku" are fictional]), and Keller and co. try to solve the mystery behind Silviaís assured demeanor not quite realizing its depth.

    The Interpreter feels like a work of someone whoís been around the block a few times, and Pollack certainly qualifies; moments where he slowly builds up the tension are thrilling to say the least (the events leading to a bombing are one example). And while the film doesnít always progress in one direction (itís obvious that it went through numerous rewrites), it usually comes back to exploring a bit more about its characters which is quite rare nowadays. Pollack tries to up the political ante late which doesnít really work because it wasnít in the cards earlier -- perhaps the fact that itís the first film to get access to U.N.ís East-Manhattan structure has some thing to do with it (Hitchcock wasn't able to in 1959 for North by Northwest); nonetheless, veteran cinematographer Darius Khondji does well to capture the vast and impeccable corridors inside as people go about their business. Penn and Kidman donít have much chemistry together but none is required as the film truly belongs to our "Interpreter" (she even gets the first credit). Penn is wise enough to realize that, adequately playing second fiddle to someone whoís arguably the better actor also. Kidman brings a fiery intensity to her role, and even during stretches when the film becomes tangled with itself, she stands out as someone who we could trust with all of her untrustworthiness.

    Grade: B-

    *THE INTERPRETER is now playing. It will be available on DVD in October.

  2. #17
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    Review Doesn't Seem To Match The Grade

    I read with interest and agreement arsaib4's review of The Interpreter yet I can't figure his B- grade. Again, if I remember correctly, this is the second time his written comments don't seem to match his final grade. If I was to grade his comments, I'd rate this movie a B+. What's the story here? Why can't a B- at least be supported by the movie review? I sure would be interested to know what at B+ or A- rating would read like.

  3. #18
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    I appreciate your response. You've asked an interesting question which I think would be quite difficult to explain for anyone because not only the application of a certain grade to a film is subjective, but so is the "grading system" itself, I think. I can only use Howard Schumann as an example because he's the only one who uses grades. If you were to read his "B-" review you would find it quite negative actually. I try to be a little more selective in terms that I use "C+," which is the median grade (between "A+" and "F"), as a sort of a benchmark. So an "average" film (e.g. Sahara), is a "C+" to me which I consider an ambivalent recommendation.

    Now, the other concern is the body of the review itself. As you'd agree, it's quite difficult to balance your thoughts in a shorter review while keeping some semblance of continuity. I think I've gotten better but I'm far from "perfect" in terms of of a match between the review and the grade. Certainly, I'm not referring to review which is alloted an "A+," an "A," or an "A-." (I'm sure you agree with the grade given to Crash even though It was a longer review.) I recently gave a "B" to Brothers but I'm not sure that you've seen it so that's probably not a good example.

    As for The Interpreter, I thought I mentioned enough weaknesses. Just to highlight a few:

    "...political aspirations (albeit of the armchair variety)..."

    "...doesnít quite reach that level..." [in reference to films like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Cordor]

    "...the film doesnít always progress in one direction (itís obvious that it went through numerous rewrites)..."

    "Pollack tries to up the political ante late which doesnít really work because it wasnít in the cards earlier..."

    Again, I've only highlighted some of the negatives. Obviously the positives outweigh them since I believe that it's a good film. I hope my attempt made some sense. BTW, it's okay if you refer to me as a second person.

  4. #19
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    Weaknesses Sufficient for a B-?

    Anduril: "As for The Interpreter, I thought I mentioned enough weaknesses. Just to highlight a few:

    "...political aspirations (albeit of the armchair variety)..."

    "...doesnít quite reach that level..." [in reference to films like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Cordor]

    "...the film doesnít always progress in one direction (itís obvious that it went through numerous rewrites)..."

    "Pollack tries to up the political ante late which doesnít really work because it wasnít in the cards earlier..."

    Tab Uno: When a movie has more positives than negatives it then become an automatic C+ to B+ category for me. If a movie "doesn't quite" reach a superior level that is A for me than it still seems ok to give a movie an A-, B+ but a B- isn't "quite reach," for me it means "it doesn't reach." And "political aspirations" well what about the pedestrian political reasons one might consider we're in Iraq with billions of dollar spent and thousands of lives lost... armchair variety but very, very significant. Again the Middle East War, the former USSR and the Cold War...what is armchair strangely enough from a movie standpoint is very, very pedstrian but real...I wouldn't diminish a movie's rating for having pedestrian political aspirations. Aren't some of the best films those that don't always progress in one direction - aren't there supposed to be twists, turns, and deadends? Brazil (1985) comes to mind, The Matrix (1999). And upping the ante when it wasn't in the cards earlier? I don't really see if that's a problem because in most movies, plots are uncovered, as an onion one must go through layers and layers and sometimes the importance of something doesn't emerge until later in a movie - just as in real life sometimes. One just begins to understand the surface features but sometimes one stumbles across a clue of a secret that just by definition is something hidden and not to be none early on in the movie. So something just like the Titanic, the iceberg or the realization of the true damage just gets getting bigger and bigger until the whole movie tips upside down or well it just sinks (but in a good way from a movie standpoint). I still think your movie review rates a B or B+.

  5. #20
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    Originally posted by tabuno
    Anduril: "As for The Interpreter, I thought I mentioned enough weaknesses. Just to highlight a few:
    LOL. I said "second person," not different person. Anyway, I'm not a "heavyweight"; I'm happy being skinny. ;)

    And "political aspirations" well what about the pedestrian political reasons one might consider we're in Iraq with billions of dollar spent and thousands of lives lost... armchair variety but very, very significant.

    I'm not quite sure what you meant exactly. You might consider the reasons pedestrian but how they are of the armchair variety yet still significant?

    I wouldn't diminish a movie's rating for having pedestrian political aspirations.

    I was quite disappointed with Pollack willing to invent a country and a language while being adamant about shooting inside the U.N. It didn't quite make sense to me. We have an oil-for-food scandal going on with which Kofi Annan's son might be involved; there've been allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeeper troops in Africa; an African leader is assassinated every other week it seems like -- but here we have a filmmaker more interested in getting permission from Annan for the building rather than at least attempting to bring a more relevant issue to the forefront.

    Aren't some of the best films those that don't always progress in one direction - aren't there supposed to be twists, turns, and deadends? Brazil (1985) comes to mind, The Matrix (1999). And upping the ante when it wasn't in the cards earlier?

    I wasn't just speaking about the twists and turns, but there were also some procedural mishaps and a few things that needed to be explained better.

    I still think your movie review rates a B or B+.

    I'm glad we're getting closer.

  6. #21
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    Wow Again.

    arsaib4: "I was quite disappointed with Pollack willing to invent a country and a language while being adamant about shooting inside the U.N. It didn't quite make sense to me. We have an oil-for-food scandal going on with which Kofi Annan's son might be involved; there've been allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeeper troops in Africa; an African leader is assassinated every other week it seems like -- but here we have a filmmaker more interested in getting permission from Annan for the building rather than at least attempting to bring a more relevant issue to the forefront."

    tabuno: I surrender. Your comment is so remarkably on target that I feel that my mind has been shot and all my brain matter spilling out to the floor. I must have been so enraptured by Nicole Kidman that I've become a piece of blubber. At this moment, in contemporary terms, your singular statement here can momentarily downgrade The Interpreter significantly. I can only hope that over the test of time, your comments will become less pertinent as new issues and controversies arise and that what Pollack has been able to accomplish is address a more generic but important issue that is more universal and not tied to a specific event or time and thus allow The Interpreter to upgrade its value over time. But yes, your point in the moment very well taken.

    As for "armchair variety yet still significant" political aspirations can be some of the most powerful of motivations and bases for a quality movie and underlay some of our most real major events of our time. In The Interpreter you imply that the political aspirations of the movie are one of its weaknesses. For me, such motivations lie at the heart of most of the significant, major events of our time. Watergate, even the Vietnam War could have at its core political aspirations in that Presidencies are won or lost such as President Carter and the Iran Hostage crises. Iraq and President Bush, his political aspiration are now hanging by a thread such is the power of such arm chair political aspirations...something that now even the average American, a majority of Americans are now beginning to have doubts about now.

    arsaib4: "there were also some procedural mishaps and a few things that needed to be explained better."

    tabuno: good clarification. Probably neither of us have the time nor energy to really pursue the procedural mishaps and the things left unclear in this movie. For me, the basic messages and plot points were sufficiently brought into the open that I had no qualms about more explanations in this movie. As for procedural, I probably noticed some of them but again watching Nicole Kidman, made me forget them - it's like magic, one can manage to slip something by by misdirection - all eyes on Nicole. I just can't remember any to build up to anything to diminish this movie.

  7. #22
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    Box Office etc.

    We recently discussed the decline our B.O. has been in but The Interpreter has proved to be an exception. This quality film shocked the pundits opening with $22 million in the U.S. back in April, and at this point has grossed over $225 million worldwide, thus making it one of the very few true successes of this year so far. (Its budget was about $80 million.)

    I appreciate that you took time to answer my questions. While I wanted The Interpreter to take an overt political stance, itís not without its merits. One character almost single-handedly takes the film there in the penultimate sequence, but it didnít quite feel right since all we saw earlier were a couple of photographs (Iím trying to be as discreet as possible). Still, your points are notable. Perhaps we didnít get off to a good start on a couple of occasions, but Iíve enjoyed our conversations recently. I donít know why people prefer to insult others in order to involve them in a discussion.

    As youíve noticed, Iíve tried to talk about a few more American films recently. While Iíll still continue to champion lesser known films, itís pretty obvious to me that even on this site, thereís not a heck of a lot of interest in those works. Hopefully, Iíll be able to find the right balance, and, yes, hopefully so will you.

  8. #23
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    2nd Go Around and the Shine Dims

    Perhaps its a little bit like one's first kiss or first date, but on a second go around after having watched The Interpreter on DVD, the initial fascinating, mystery has faded with repeated viewings. I'm not sure whether my initial review still remains valid or whether I was just mesmerized by Nichole Kidman as I usually am. Strangely, I can appreciate the comments of other people's posts now that I've seen the movie again. I still have to believe that this movie has the potential to really have an impact on a first time through basis and it's in that experience without knowing how the future plays out that this movie excells. Yet, obviously it can't be considered even close to a classic if it can't hold up on repeated viewings. Like The Blair Witch Project (1999) the fascination of the movie is in the process of living, experiencing the sensations through the "first time," discovering from the beginning the fresh unknown clues, the unfolding of the plot that leads to the more intriguing satisfaction. In it not so much in the contents that the movie excelled as to how the editing and plot evolved. But as some say about sex it's never as good as the first time and this movie really adds new meaning to that phrase for me.

  9. #24
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    Re: 2nd Go Around and the Shine Dims

    Originally posted by tabuno
    I'm not sure whether my initial review still remains valid or whether I was just mesmerized by Nichole Kidman as I usually am.
    Even if you were, there's nothing wrong with that.

    I still have to believe that this movie has the potential to really have an impact on a first time through basis and it's in that experience without knowing how the future plays out that this movie excells. Yet, obviously it can't be considered even close to a classic if it can't hold up on repeated viewings. Like The Blair Witch Project (1999) the fascination of the movie is in the process of living, experiencing the sensations through the "first time," discovering from the beginning the fresh unknown clues, the unfolding of the plot that leads to the more intriguing satisfaction. In it not so much in the contents that the movie excelled as to how the editing and plot evolved.

    There are certainly exceptions, but most thrillers/whodunits don't play well the second time around mostly because the suspense factor isn't there. That's when the audiences also become aware of some of the other issues the film might've had that they missed in the initial viewing.

    But films like, say, M (1931) or The Usual Suspects (1995) don't lose much because they have more to offer than the ultimate answer.

    I think The Interpreter, even with its flaws, is a film which deserves to be seen, and I hope people get to watch it on DVD.

  10. #25
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    (Warning: Spoilers)
    The basic premise requires significant suspension of disbelief: the UN interpreter who accidentally overhears a plot to kill Zuwanie, an African president, also had her parents killed by landmines same president ordered to be placed. Moreover, the final chapter has Zuwanie staging an elaborate bogus assassination attempt inside the UN building in order to justify his violent policies. It's a movie with a single and clear foreign villain (this ain't no Syriana or even The Constant Gardener) which makes it rather simple and old-fashioned.

    What makes The Interpreter worth-watching is the flawless execution by a wonderful crew and cast headed by Sydney Pollack. Maybe it's not saying too much but it's his best film in 20 years (since 1985's Out of Africa). The action scenes are edited for both excitement and spatial clarity, a rarity nowadays. For the first time since the United Nations complex was completed, a filmmaker was allowed full access to it and the payoff is obvious. The pacing of the narrative generates quite a bit mystery and suspense while remaining grounded in characterization. Nicole Kidman as the interpreter who vacilates between violence and diplomacy as a response to evil, and Sean Penn as a security agent drowning in grief, are both very good.

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