10 Years: “The Interpreter”

Some films grab you from the moment you first watch them. Hopefully you like the film well enough, but occasionally you don’t. For the ones you like, or truly love, you’re bound to watch it many more times over many more years. It’s because of this that an interesting dynamic can be added to any future viewing of any given film.

The Universal Pictures film “The Interpreter”, is a compelling thriller, but the level of intensity that once was there, seems absent.

This political thriller stars Nicole Kidman (upcoming films “Secret in Their Eyes”, “Grace of Monaco”), Sean Penn (“The Gunman”, “Gangster Squad”), Catherine Keener (“Accidental Love”, “War Story”), Jesper Christensen (upcoming “Spectre”, “The Legacy”), Yvan Attal (“The Last Diamond”, “Do Not Disturb”), Michael Wright (“Stitch”, “D’Curse”), Earl Cameron (“Inception”, “Dalziel and Pascoe”), George Harris (“Sinbad”, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”), Tsai Chin (“Getting On”, “Agents of S.H.E.L.D.”), Clyde Kusatsu (“Raising Hope”, “Franklin & Bash”), Eric Keenleyside (“Strange Empire”, “Seventh Son”), Christopher Evan Welch (“Silicon Valley”, “Admission”), Hugo Speer (“The Muskateers”, “Father Brown”), Maz Jobrani (“Friends with Better Lives”, “True Blood”), and David Zayas (“Gotham”, “Annie (2014)”).

The film was directed by Sydney Pollack (“Out of Africa”, “Tootsie”) and written by Charles Randolph (“Love and Other Drugs”, “The Life of David Gale”), Scott Frank (“A Walk Among the Tombstones”, “The Wolverine”), and Steven Zaillian (“Exodus: Gods and Kiings”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)”).

The film originally hit theaters on April 22, 2005.

As I keep learning, watching a film that I’ve liked for quite some time, but not seen in a while, isn’t going to have the result expected. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t completely disliked a lot of these films, but I do begin to wonder why it is I liked them in the first place. Was it purely just because the overall film blew me away in an instant and that’s why I decided to buy it? The actors, of which there’s a lot of good ones? Whatever it was that said this film must be in my collection, it’s hiding behind age, or at least, in part it is. I don’t think it’s the fact that my expectations were too high, which when you think about some of the people involved, I had every right to have high hopes. There’s the fact that this film is directed by a two-time Academy Award winner, stars two Academy Award winners (Kidman and Penn), plus has a two-time Academy Award nominated actress (Keener) rounding out the main cast. I know that seems like a terrible way to look, but the mere fact of a nomination is supposed to recognize the talent of an individual, so why not judge something by this? It’s what sets them apart from their early stuff (where they may have been bad actors) and other terrible actors in general. Oh, and one of the writers for this film is an Oscar winning screenwriter. Lot’s of expectations, that some could say were not met. I know I had no problems with this film originally, but that was a long time ago. Now I’m not so sure.

While I was still captivated by this film, partly or wholly, for the political premise of the plot, I couldn’t help but notice that somehow I wasn’t completely pulled in again. I was pulled in enough so that I wasn’t bored and regretting having chosen to watch this film, but I knew I could do other things, like check my email. This is where the problem lies. It’s time. I’ve seen it enough times where it’s difficult for the events to be even mildly fresh to me. Then there’s the fact that I was really invested when I initially saw this film. A film that intriguing can definitely leave a very distinct mark. So, even though I tried to go in with as clear a mind as I could manage, it ultimately proved useless. Hey, try watching for the umpteenth time “The Sixth Sense”, and get back to me.

What I can say I did still like were the actors. That sounds like a given, but not all their films are ones you particularly enjoy for one reason or another. More or less, and this will help to make this shorter, the actors just worked off each other quite well. There was never a misstep with them or a feeling that they weren’t a good fit. The only thing I wonder is if the deep character insights were really all that interesting. They more gave the characters motivations for doing or thinking the things they did, but they didn’t particularly move me. They were sad, sure, but I was ready to move on.

One upside to Kidman and her character was the slight difference in her accent. It’s something I still find interesting and perfect for this film. As she’s from a fictitious country, it makes sense that she wouldn’t have just her regular Australian accent or necessarily have a British one. To me, it was almost a mix of both, but not enough to land it in one area over another. Add that to the fact that the fictional country, language, and culture was somehow created in a smart way. I believed it all.

The general locations were great in this film, especially with regards to how they were filmed. I’ll get to that in a moment. However, none stood out more, and was amazing to see than the United Nations Headquarters! No, it wasn’t a set that was constructed from looking at pictures or taking a tour. It was the real United Nations Headquarters.

The below picture may not be the best representation of this, but (and this is why I love them), the special features dives into this, as does the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). If I didn’t know this, which I’m not sure if I did beforehand, then I’m not sure if I would’ve responded to this film the way I did. Knowing that it’s completely real somehow allowed me to enjoy the film and its story all the more. It’s funny to say this, as half the point of set design is to bring you into the story and get you believing what you’re seeing. If they had built this I doubt I would’ve known the difference, but it wouldn’t make this film stand out so much.

Speaking of set decoration, there was some great design work done with regards to Kidman’s character’s apartment. Just looking around, even when the camera wasn’t specifically panning over a certain area for emphasis, you could tell how much was a way of detailing a ton of information about who Kidman’s character was. Usually, sets, particularly those that serve as the character’s home, don’t seem to do much for me. They just exist, and are usually clean and orderly, but they say very little. This time, I got a full picture and could actually like her even more. You understood so much about her by just being in her home, that the other bits of backstory written into the story, seem almost unnecessary.

Oh, god. I could go on forever about the way that Pollack shot the film. Okay, maybe not forever, but long enough. He shot this in widescreen. That’s the long and the short of it. As mentioned earlier, he talked about this in a special feature and even showed the difference between the look he was going for, and what happens when you change it. While some of this terminology sounds foreign to me, it was easy to spot that the film’s style and/or look, appeared different, but very fitting for this film. I was overjoyed with the fact that I was correct in thinking the film looked so different from most films. There was so much to enjoy. You could see so much of the scenery, sets, or just what else was going on as the camera moved around for a bit before finally landing on the actors in a given scene. The cinematography in terms of angles and whatever else may not have been all that special, but this specific approach to detail makes this film all the more engaging and fun.

I may have overshot hear. My intention was to explain how time affected my ability to fully engage with this film again, even remotely similar to the way I first did, and I don’t think I’ve achieved that. So, I’ll state it once more. I couldn’t get fully into this film the way one would if they were just sitting down to watch it for the first time. It’s not like this idea is new at all, but it’s certainly becoming a recurring theme. I will say this, as a final takeaway, that this film is worth seeing at least once. The thriller genre is a hard one to make a film in and be successful. I believe it was successful on that level. It was engaging, had a mystery that pulled you along the entire time, and never bored me. At the very least now, I could still see that, and hope that others do too.


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