Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Interpreter

"The Interpreter" (Sydney Pollack, 2005) A lot of "firsts" in this movie: the intriguing pairing of Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman--she, in a role tailor-made for Charlize Theron, and he, basically making money for the production of "Into the Wild;"* it's the first time the United Nations has allowed filming on its premises (a wise move to dispel some of the recent "Secret Society" rantings about the U.N. among the Red States), showing the inner workings and the awe-inspiring chambers inside; it's Sydney Pollack's first film designed for wide-screen since his work in the 60's**--his compositions are far more elegant and complex than the kind of attention he paid to, say, "The Electric Horseman," or "Tootsie," or sadly, "Out of Africa." The wide-screen compositions give the impression that the film is more complex than it actually is. As it stands it follows the Pollack formula ("Person of Mystery investigated by another until all is revealed in a pro-forma setting," in this case, the general assembly of the U.N.) The Person of Mystery is Kidman's Sylvia Broome, an interpreter at the U.N. with a burning secret. The investigator is Penn's Tobin Keller with the Secret Service, charged with protecting the despotic President of an African nation--where Ms. Broome's dissident parents, sister, and most recently, brother were killed. Only he doesn't know that. Why wouldn't he know that, you may ask? So do I, as a background check might--just might--turn up that information. But, he's distracted because 1) you know how investigations involving information from third world countries go, 2) Broome is very good at not volunteering any information, 3) she's being stalked, so now he's involved in protecting the potentate and her for what she might know, and 4) oh yeah, his wife just died.

I guess 1-3 weren't dramatic enough reasons.

There are plots, counter-plots and even bogus plots falling all over each other, one particularly nasty explosion (that violates the "Hitchcock rule"***), and some such nonsense about Truth being better than Lying. It's a lot of drama built over one of those Messages that is so Simplistic, Nobody's going to be Offended. I guess you have to do that when you film at the U.N.

Seeing the magnificent cathedrals to world peace is the best reason to see this movie. Kidman and Penn are very good, but wasted (but not as "criminally" wasted as Catherine Keener is as Penn's partner-agent), and Pollack's eye for composition has never been better. If those particulars are of interest it's a movie to see. If things like story matter, best to give it a pass.

*More and more, Penn is looking like this generation's George C. Scott, in the literal and spiritual sense.

*** Pollack stopped doing wide-screen composition for films because the only other market for films was airings on television--full-screen, which would take wide-screen films and electronically shift them to the area of the screen where the center of attention was, a process perjoratively called "pan-and-scan." So, Pollack made movies where most of the "action" was going on in the middle of the screen in a barely elongated square, like your television screen. Now, that the technology has advanced with wide-screen TV, and DVD's eclipsing TV broadcasting (the "major" networks don't show movies anymore), and the cable channels mix wide-screen with "pan-and-scan." Movie channels devoted to films (like TCM) show films wide-screen. Movie channels that only SAY they're devoted to films like AMC) pan and scan--and insert interruptions, like commercials and promos. Stanley Kubrick composed for television, as well. that's why there's such a stink about his DVD's (except for the early films through "Clockwork Orange") not being wide-screen. They supposedly weren't intended to be.

*** Before you set off a bomb, tell people there is a bomb, and where it is, and when it will go off, to build suspense. That's why a lot of movie-bombs have superfluous LED screens.

No comments: