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DVD Review - The Interpreter

October 3rd, 2005

The Interpreter was one of the few films to top expectations in April and its final box office tally was second only to Sin City for the month. Was the film's success a matter of weak competition, or was there something else that allowed the film to connect with an audience? Also, is the DVD worth buying, renting, or is it best left alone?

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:
Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, a UN Translator from the fiction African nation of Matobo. One night while returning to pick some of her things from her booth, she overhears two men plotting an assassination. But because they were speaking in a very rare language, and because of some of the secrets of her past, the federal agent investigating the situation, Tobin Keller, doesn't believe her.

The next section contains spoilers, click here to skip to the Special Features section.

Movie Review:
The film is billed as a political thriller, but while there are a few action scenes, the film is more intellectual. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the film is a lot more engaging because it there's more to think about. On the other hand, some people complained that the plot was too confusing for them to follow.

There is some merit to the latter complaint as the assassination plot is convoluted at times with twist after twist, perhaps one too many twists. And it is helped along by a couple of coincidences that strain credibility; for instance, the fact that Silvia Broome heard the plot in the first place is monstrously unlikely. But it is necessary for the movie to begin, so it's more forgivable. After all, had she missed the conversation, the men's plan would have gone off without a hitch and the movie would have been much, much shorter and much, much less interesting. Other coincidences are less acceptable. Nicole Kidman being the former lover of one of the political leaders assassinated, for example. Some of these should have been trimmed from the movie.

To explain the more difficult portions of the plot, there were several long dialogues in the film (arias as director Sydney Pollack calls them in the audio commentary). These arias really slow the action down, which is not a problem by itself, as the scenes allow Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn to show off their acting chops. However, the ads really emphasized the action aspect of the movie and people going into the movie with that in mind will be disappointed. On a side note, while both actors were amazing for the most part, Nicole Kidman's accent wavered a bit - not enough to become distracting, but enough to be noteworthy.

Lastly, the romance angle between Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn was thankfully underplayed. It was obvious that the characters had emotional feelings for each other, but having them act on these feelings would have felt cheap. As it is, it adds emotional depth without distracting from the story and becomes one of the strong points of the film.

Special Features:
The special features on the disc are only average for a first run feature, with an audio commentary, a couple of deleted scenes, a few featurettes, etc. But not only are they average in quantity, but also average in quality.

Audio Commentary track with Sydney Pollack
The heart of the special features and Sydney Pollack gives some great insight into the making of the film. However, there is some repetition between this feature and others and way too many dead spots on the track. More than once I reached for the remote control wanting to check to see if the audio commentary was somehow turned off.

Alternate Ending - 3:00
This is exactly what it sounds like, an alternate ending to the film. This ending is a little more powerful, but has less closure then the one they used. I suppose they could have combined the two.

Deleted Scenes - 2:30
Three deleted scenes, the first of which is less than 10 seconds long. The last one is the longest at just over a minute, but it gave away too much information too soon. On the other hand, the middle one with Dot and Sylvia in the car should have been keep as it helped define the relationships between the characters more.

Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room - 10:00
Your basic making-of featurette comprised mostly of Sydney Pollack speaking into the camera, but also with some behind-the-scenes shots and clips from the movie. The feature is quite in-depth, but it's a little short and there is some repetition between this feature and the audio commentary track. Even so, the feature is worth watching at least once.

Interpreting Pan & Scan vs. Widescreen - 5:00
Sydney Pollack discusses the difference between Widescreen and Pan & Scan. He's even more passionate about the subject than I am. I despise Pan & Scan and wish it would go away. The only thing I hate more than Pan & Scan is when studios call it Full Screen, because you are not getting the full picture. While I certainly agree with his opinion, I don't think the case he puts forward is entirely convincing.

The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations - 8:00
A featurette about the difficulties in getting permission to shoot in the United Nations and the intangible benefits of shooting there, as well as the added concerns. Because the U.N. is not supposed to be used for commercial purposes their request was rejected at first, so this featurette is a lot more interesting than it would first seem. After all, getting a shooting permit is usually not a very exciting process. Unlike the first two featurettes, quite a few members of the crew speak, as does Nicole Kidman, and the featurette is more interesting because of that.

A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters - 8:00
A short featurette about the real U.N. interpreters, obviously, but it also briefly talks about Ku, the language they invented for the movie. This is an interesting look, but like the previous featurettes, is perhaps a little too short and I would have preferred to have more information about how Ku was created, perhaps a comparison between it and the two root languages of Swahili and Shona.

On paper, The Interpreter looked excellent with plenty of Oscar winners. With this much talent in every aspect of the film, writing, directing, acting (especially Catherine Keener, who more than holds her own against the heavyweights) you would expect a nearly perfect movie. However, there were just enough flaws in the film that I never really became fully invested in the characters. Add in special features that were merely average and the end result is a DVD that is a solid rental, but I can't recommend buying it unless you are a real fan of this particular genre.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Interpreter