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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Interpreter (2005)

"We don't name the dead."
- Sylvia (Nicole Kidman)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: October 03, 2005

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn
Other Stars: Catherine Keener, Sydney Pollack
Director: Sydney Pollack

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, some sexual content and brief strong language
Run Time: 02h:08m:17s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 025192583520
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-A-B C

DVD Review

Sydney Pollack's movies are always made with care andpassion; he consistently demonstrates a high level of craft,whether he knocks it out of the park (Tootsie, Out ofAfrica) or not (Havana, the unwise Sabrina remake). Alas,The Interpreter is closer to the latter camp than theformer—it's polished and professional, but there's some ungainlystorytelling, and too much of the time you'll wish that you had ascorecard or a map to keep all the information and plot strandsstraight.

Nicole Kidman plays the title role, Sylvia Broome, an African whoworks at the United Nations; her fictional nation of Matobo teemswith political strife and violence, and Sylvia's family is notimmune. While running back to the booth from which she works, sheoverhears something she shouldn't: a thinly veiled but quitespecific threat against the leader of Matobo, who is slated toaddress the U.N. General Assembly in just a matter of days. Sheplaces the appropriate phone call, and swooping in to investigateand extinguish the threat is the Dignitary Protection Squad of theSecret Service, led by Agent Keller (Sean Penn), who wears the airof tragedy about him just as he does his necessary trenchcoat.

Pollack's film is deliberately evocative of the great politicalthrillers of the mid-1970s; he himself made one of the best,Three Days of the Condor, and the central premise of thisone invites comparisons with The Conversation. But thestory frequently has a patchwork, arbitrary quality to it; thereare five credited screenwriters on this project, and I'd wager thatthere were at least as many more whose work didn't rate credit inWGA arbitration. It shows—the plot is difficult to follow andoften muddled, and the filmmakers expect us to digest a crazyamount of backstory, which comes gushing at us in paragraphs. Fora movie made at this high level, it's about as ungainly an exercisein exposition as you'll see. The Hitchcock comparisons are probablyinevitable as well. One of the film's claims to fame is that it wasthe first picture for which permission was secured to shoot onlocation at the U.N., bringing to mind a climactic scene inNorth by Northwest, and when Sylvia's apartment is undersurveillance, Keller likes to watch, much like James Stewart inRear Window.

The leader of Matobo is a Mugabe-style tyrant called Zuwanie, butkeeping track of the fictional African politics is close tohopeless. The two leads, as usual, are very good, though theirroles in this kind of tightly confined story don't allow them toshow much range; even more underutilized is Catherine Keener, asPenn's sidekick, who doesn't get to do much more than run aroundand look moody. The menace of terrorism as something that doesn'thappen in obscure places but right here at home is at the heart ofthis movie, which probably wouldn't have been conceived before theattacks of September 11th; still, so much of this is about thehushed discussions of shadowy conspiracies in dark rooms, and asmembers of the audience, they don't mean much to us. Also, we'rein that frequent film location, Movie New York, in whicheverybody's apartment is spacious and ready for the Pottery Barncatalog shoot, and in which parking is always readily available,(and free). Still, Pollack is enough of a pro to deliver thegoods toward the end with a solid chase sequence; you can't keep theplot elements straight, but something exciting and kinetic ishappening, and it's worth watching. You can only hope that thenext time out, Pollack uses his considerable talents on a morecarefully thought out piece of material.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Cinematographer Darius Khondji's work looksvery strong on this transfer, obviously done with an abundanceof care. It's also clear that the producers got their money's worthfrom their helicopter rentals; moving overhead shots become thesignature look of the picture, and Khondji and Pollack go to thewell a few too many times with it.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: James Newton Howard seriously overdoes itwith the percussion on the soundtrack; you'll quickly meet yourkettle drum quota once you're done watching this one. Perhapsbecause of the nature of the score, then, the bass seems todominate; Kidman's African accent and higher-pitched voicecontribute to making her a bit more difficult to understand.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Carlito's Way: Rise toPower, Pride and Prejudice, House
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Sydney Pollack
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Pollack demonstrates his professionalism on thecommentary track, though he does seem to get caught up in theminutiae, and speaks frequently about things that were rewrittenand reshot; it's almost as if you can hear him losing sight of theforest for the trees. He also trails off badly after an hour orso. An alternate ending (02m:59s) is thick with melodrama, though wouldn't have changed the story in any significant way; a package (02m:20s) of three deleted scenes are entirely extraneous.

The director ruminates on his background and his profession as we get to see Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room (10m:02s); he then preaches the virtues of letterboxing while Interpreting Pan and Scan versus Widescreen (05m:09s), with a demonstration on a monitor in an editing bay. The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations (08m:04s) goes over the difficulties and challenges of the location shooting, including the tale of Pollack wangling permission out of Kofi Annan; and finally A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters (08m:18s) features interviews with Pollack, Kidman, and her character's real-life counterparts, who do not want to be referred to as translators, thank you very much, merci beaucoup, danke schein.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A frequently confusing if well-intentioned thrillerfrom Sydney Pollack. A lot of it makes only a marginal amount ofsense; the extras here try to make a persuasive case for the film,but there's more sizzle than steak with this one.


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