Thursday, May 05, 2005

Movie: The Interpreter (2005)

Sydney Pollack’s U.N.-set thriller has a few too many slow spots and implausibilities. But it also offers its share of pleasures.

Like the chance to witness a fascinating collision of acting styles. Sean Penn is so grounded in naturalism that his Secret Service agent has been saddled with a morose backstory that threatens to stop the movie cold. And Nicole Kidman is so luminous a star that a single close-up glosses over the many inconsistencies in her character. Together these two have a kind of anti-chemistry that lends their scenes an air of authenticity. They genuinely seem like people thrown together by circumstance.

The movie also includes an extended sequence involving a Brooklyn bus that on its own is worth the price of admission. It’s the best thriller set piece I’ve seen in ages. Pollack, canny old pro that he is, knows that suspense doesn’t spring from fast cutting but from information. He trusts the audience, which repays him in spades. It’s a thrill unto itself to see an entire theater full of people slowly inch their way to the edges of their seats.

And New York has seldom looked better onscreen. Although this is one time when a little knowledge of the city’s geography hurts. I can understand the logic in closing the film with a shot of the U.N. in the background. Cinematographer Darius Khondji makes the building sparkle. But all I could think was: what the hell are we doing in Queens?