"The Interpreter" is a watchable, if not always absorbing thriller, thanks to sheer star power and top directing talent.
Nicole Kidman is Silvia, an American raised in Africa, who works as an interpreter at the United Nations. One night she overhears an assassination plot that appears to be about a controversial head of state who is about to make a speech to the General Assembly. Secret Service agents Keller (Sean Penn) and Woods (the superb Catherine Keener) are assigned to evaluate the threat. That means that they have to decide whether to believe Silvia. Is she holding back some of what she knows because she is afraid, or is she part of the plot? "What is she now, a victim or a suspect?" one character asks.
Director Sidney Pollak (who appears in a small role as a Secret Service official) knows how to create an ominous tone and his sense of pace and timing is superb.
One scene that takes place on a bus should be used in master classes on how to direct a thriller. The script has some clever lines. "I'll be honest with you," Silvia says to Keller. "I don't know how honest I can be with you." It cleverly uses structure to help tell the story. A series of frustratingly incomplete phone calls evolves into connections in both technical and emotional terms. Finally, two people communicate in person, revealing their secrets.
Those scenes with Silvia and Keller are the heart of the movie, and Kidman and Penn have the conviction and the charisma to deliver all that the script offers them and more. The UN setting is fresh and intriguing and the film avoids some of the expected developments. Keener makes a strong impression as more than the usual wise-cracking sidekick.
But the story...