the Interpreter in the theater because its reception by critics was mostly lukewarm. After watching it this weekend on DVD, I'm sorry I missed it in the theater. Even if the rest of the movie were not good, two specific scenes make this movie worth watching -- the scene at the UN when Penn confronts Kidman with the list, and the scene on the bus. You'll know what I mean when you see them.
The plot, briefly: Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, an interpreter at the UN who grew up in the impoverished and war-torn African nation of Muboto. When she overhears two men speaking an obscure African language plotting the assassination of her home country's ruthless dictator, and she reports it, she becomes the target of both the plotters, and the secret service (fronted by Sean Penn, Katherine Keener and boss Roman Polansky), who find items in her past which make her as much a suspect as the people she supposedly overheard.
While I found it necessary to suspend my disbelief beyond what should be expected for such a (mostly) intelligent, well-plotted political thriller three separate times, I was able to let that go thanks to the exceptional quality of the rest of the film. The dialogue and language flow more like a play than a film -- scenes are beautifully written, just on the poetic side of reality (which may drive some thriller viewers away, but was enthralling for me), and linger longer than the typical film scene, which gives the whole piece a sort of languid dramatic pace -- the tension remains throughout the film, but it unfolds slowly (maybe too sowly for some). Cinematography is absolutely top-flight -- I'm not usually one to gawk at shots, but this was just a damn beautiful film, especially considering that we are not talking about sweeping natural vistas here -- it's set almost entirely in New York City, and largely indoors.
Acting is strong across the board, principles and smaller roles. You can tell this this was actually shot in New York by the predominance of fine NYC actors (for example, like 30% of the cast of Oz, which was shot in New Jersey, have large roles in the film), and they do their work well. Kidman plays a complex mix of toughness, inner strength and vulnerability, and Penn is achingly human as agent Keller, whose personal troubles directly color his sense of duty. Katherien Keener is fantastic in her role as Penn's partner -- her simple silent presence bolsters every scene she's in, and her every move swims with subtext. Also fantastic is George Harris, who plays a political dissident exiled from Mutobo with tremendous gravity and charm.
In the end, parts of the Interpreter are overwraught, and there are a few glaring plot holes. I understand why a viewer looking for a typical thriller might have been disappointed, but if you enjoy a well-written, complex story and top-notch acting, and can forgive a plot hole or two, it is a fine film, and definitely worth the rental.