Updated: Jan 14, 2019
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Blu-ray; 2005; PG-13 for violence some sexual content and brief strong profanity; streaming without the extras Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Sydney Pollack at Work” interview
SYDNEY POLLACK’S final feature film, before he died in 2008, was “The Interpreter.”
Strangely, it’s finally out on Blu-ray, previously released in 2006 on the short-lived HD DVD format. So its re-emergence, albeit made from the same 2K master and accompanied by the same extras as the earlier HD version, is still puzzling. It would be interesting to know what took so long, and why it wasn’t upgraded.
The story is still an enjoyable geopolitical thriller, despite some obvious flaws. Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, a United Nations interpreter fluent in the “Ku” language of “Matobo,” a (fictional) African country where its beloved leader has turned into a repressive tyrant, who has been wantonly slaughtering his people. One night, Silvia returns after hours to the sound booth of the U.N. assembly room to retrieve some things she’d left behind, and happens to overhear an assassination plot being whispered in (you guessed it) Ku. After she accidentally turns on the light in the booth, she realizes she could be seen by the conspirators. Fearing for her safety, she informs the authorities of what she heard – besides, it’s the right thing to do.
Enter Secret Service Agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), who must determine if she’s telling the truth, but who is also drawn to the attractive young woman. The plot becomes more intricate and convoluted as we learn Keller is mourning the recent accidental death of his estranged wife and that Silvia has worrisome ties to Matobo. “The Interpreter” has a lot going for it, including some fine suspense and acting, especially by Kidman and Catherine Keener, who plays another Secret Service agent. Penn displays the same perennially tormented expression and moody performance we’ve seen too many times. And Pollack opts for a contrived, sentimental finale, which will likely leave viewers feeling manipulated.
This Kino Lorber/Universal Blu-ray looks pretty good (2.39:1 aspect ratio), with saturated color and naturalistic skin tones, although fine detail is uneven. The DTS-HD audio is good, with dialogue clear, and sound effects well-balanced and believable. The musical score is satisfyingly understated, allowing the action to speak for itself.
All presented in standard-def include a commentary by Pollack; deleted scenes; an alternate ending; featurettes on being the first movie ever filmed inside the U.N., real interpreters discussing their work, and comparing “pan and scan” with widescreen, which isn’t relevant to today’s setup of 4K and HDTVs.
The documentary “Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room” shows him explaining his feelings about directing: “It’s hard to make a film that’s not embarrassing.” This sentiment might come as a result of the critical and box office failures of a few of the movies he made prior to “The Interpreter.”
He says he actually prefers editing, and “the satisfaction of re-ordering the world.” After all the scenes are shot, he says, “you’re piling up clay, and then you sculpt … it’s like cooking … you get results very fast.” On the plus side, he adds, “I can have many lives when I direct films … I get to be all these people … and avoid having a real job.” He recalls his early experiences as an actor and drama school teacher, during which time he “formulated my basic technique as a director.”
Unable to earn a living in front of the camera, Pollack focused on directing, but then after 20 years, “accidentally” got back into acting. He gave himself small roles in some of his own films, such as “Tootsie,” and has one in “The Interpreter.” He also acted in movies for such other directors as Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick.
“The Interpreter” began without a script, admits Pollack, which he says he and his co-writers wrote as they went along. He discusses the importance of the beginning of a film, which is when a director can let his audience know they’re “in good hands.” By starting the “Interpreter” with a brutal scene shot on location in Africa, he says he was “trying to say we’ll be as authentic as possible.” Pollack talks about a scene in which a bus explodes, and that he’d been worried it might seem “cheap and exploitive,” but how it needed to be “terrifying and horrifying.” He reiterates his feelings about directing, which he finds charged with pressure and anxiety: “I love it when it’s over and it’s reasonably good.
— Peggy Earle