African genocide is the premise for Sydney Pollack's latest drama, The Interpreter. However, unlike the Oscar-nominated movie Hotel Rwanda, which exposes that nation's mass murders, this film unfolds in the hallways of the United Nations Headquarters and spends very little time focused on the citizens of the made-up country of Matobo.
Instead, the action centers around Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), a foreign-born interpreter who has a grasp on several languages including one of Matobo's little known tribal dialects. It's the only reason she understands a whispered plot she overhears late one evening in her booth at the U.N. building.
Coming forward to the authorities, she reveals the plans to kill a dignitary during an upcoming visit. But with tensions already high over the official's arrival, she is considered as much a suspect as an informant. Unsure of credibility, the U.N. Security assigns a pair of federal agents to keep an eye on her.
Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and his partner, Dot Woods (Catherine Keener), are two no-nonsense officers whose training makes them wary of everyone. Tapping in to the government's archives, they rifle through Silvia's past and uncover a dark history that raises their doubts about her allegations.
Still, Tobin's reservations about Silvia aren't enough to keep him from breaking the first cardinal rule in his line of work-don't get involved with the client. Whether it's the result of his general lack of sleep or his recent personal tragedy, his professional sensibilities (and the plot) are sidelined by the unlikely romantic involvement.
Opening with the brutal slayings of numerous characters and a room full of decomposing corpses, the film barely hangs on to its PG-13 rating as the body count continues to rise throughout the film. Along with the portrayal of stress-driven alcohol use and profanities, the movie also depicts the antics of a nearly naked striptease dancer performing for an overseas prime minister.
Additionally, the script is punctured with enough holes to leave even the most junior security personnel squirming in his shoes. Foreign terrorists on the streets of New York target officials and innocent victims alike, yet agents, who can evacuate an entire building in a matter of minutes, are unable to control the movements of the known rebels.
Doing its best to endorse the United Nations organization, the storyline promotes the use of peaceful dialogue in conflict resolution. But while it's preaching the power of words, guns seem to be the weapons of choice for the participants in this political thriller.