Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Interpreter

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, some sexual content and brief strong language

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Drama, Political, Thriller
2 hr. 8 min.
Year of Release:
Featuring: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Max Minghella, Jesper Christensen
Director: Sydney Pollack
Producer: Kevin Misher, Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Relevant Issues

The truth needs no translation.

“Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13) could be seen as the strongest theme in Sydney Pollack’s political suspense drama “The Interpreter.” It seems that this theme, and others like it, are becoming more and more prevalent in Hollywood, which may be a reaction to our current political climate. Whatever the endeavor, the result here is a presentation with a positive message of peace and a successful piece of entertainment.

Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) works inside the United Nations as an interpreter for her home country of South Africa. After overhearing what she thinks is an assassination attempt on a despised political leader, Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), she soon comes under investigation by the Secret Service, led by Tobin Keller (Sean Penn). Primarily instructed to protect the political leader Zuwanie during his visit, Keller ends up being more involved with Silvia, first formally as her protector, but eventually informally as her friend.

All things considered, this is a very decent film. There are a few brief objectionable moments, but they are very minor and do not take away from the overall enjoyment of the film. The worst is a brief scene in a strip club and has brief minor nudity. There is also some violence, involving guns and people being shot, as well as a suicide. There was a surprising lack of foul language, save one scene where Tobin curses, using God’s name in vain.

One of the aspects of this film that can be appreciated is the relationship between Silvia and Tobin. Their relationship begins strictly professionally, but, as these dramas stereotypically go, they become more involved personally. However, the taste and class with which they choose to handle their friendship—and even hints of romance—provides much more value to who they are as people. While the potential for them to be lovers is there, it is all kept at a very mature level while not even having them so much as kiss. There is a real tenderness, respect and mutual understanding reflected in each of the characters for each other. Thank you story writers Martin Stellman, Brian Ward, and screenplay writers Charles Randolph, Scott Frank and Steven Zaillian.

Speaking of the writing, there was more to appreciate in terms of craftsmanship. The drama is interesting, relevant and suspenseful. There are times when it does seem a little overly dramatic, but it is still handled very well. The dialogue is well written, and, of course, well performed. And while this is clearly a plot-driven kind of movie, there were still some moments where the language and the situations were rich with poetry.

Ultimately, this movie contains an inspiring story of mercy and forgiveness. There is a wonderful parable presented within this story that tells of a ritual involving punishing criminals and the family of the victims having to decide whether or not the guilty party should die or be saved. While this parable (and this movie) doesn’t provide all of the answers, it is one that greatly reflects a marvelous Biblical principal, reflecting the nature of God’s forgiveness for each of us.

There are a few details that one may object to, but overall this is a film worth watching. While it’s not the best movie ever, it is the best thing out right now, and provides entertainment as well as something uplifting.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Mild / Sex/nudity: Mild

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This movie was amazing. I will preface this by saying that I am the type of Christian that doesn’t like to view a film if it involves a lot of crude sexual humour, sex scenes, vulgarity, or morals contrary to the Word of God. I usually try to watch rated “G” or “PG” movies for this very reason. However, when I heard about this film, its plot intrigued me; I went to the theatre expecting “just another” action/conspiracy movie. I was pleasantly surprised.

My husband and I saw this movie and were floored by its amazing cinematography and filmmaking quality. The plot was loaded with several suspenseful scenes, and it keeps you guessing until the very last second. The main actors — Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn—did a SPECTACULAR job as well. You get so caught up in the characters they play that you really forget who is playing them (like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal”.)

But the thing that was extremely amazing about this film was the message it sent. The plot is basically about mercy, justice, and forgiveness, and how to go about implementing them. You have an evil dictator of an African President whom it seems the entire world holds hatred against, and yet there are those who believe he should still be given mercy. It’s also interesting to see how the main characters both deal with loss and grief, and throughout the movie, almost cling to each other emotionally in order to help them to “move on.”

I rate this movie extrememly highly. It wasn’t necessarily a “Christian” message… and it’s certainly not a “happy, feel-good” type film. You walk away from “The Interpreter” really somberly thinking about what you just saw. The same empathy you’d feel after viewing “Schindler’s List” or “Hotel Rwanda.”.

This movie contains no sexual scenes, hardly any sexual verbage, and God’s Name is used in vain twice by the same person in the same scene. There is little profanity, and the only nudity you see is close to the beginning where Sean Penn is in a stip club. I highly recommend that everyone see this movie. I would pay 8 bucks to go see it again.
My Ratings: Better than Average/5
— Megan—Vernon, BC, age 22
Positive—I very much liked this film. My husband and I went to see it and enjoyed the suspenseful, thoughtful movie. The topics of peaceful negotiation versus violence are relevant to today’s geopolitical situation, and the story line concerning personal grief and forgiveness are always relevant.
My Ratings: Better than Average/4
—J Sargent, age 31
Positive—This movie was average morally with some objectionable moments. There were scenes showing dead bodies and killings, but most weren’t graphic. The most disturbing would be the murder by an adolescent. The camera shows the rifle resting against a man’s forehead, but then scans away during the shot. There is also a bus explosion. Survivors walk around with varying amounts of injuries. Several settings show drinking, and include a scene in a stripper bar. Two women have little clothing—we see one briefly from the back wearing only a G-string. There are also about a dozen curse words. H*** and s*** are used nine times, and the Lord’s name another three. Two of these are with the word d***.

I enjoyed this movie because of its topic of forgiveness. The film taught several times that vengeance injures those who won’t forgive. Silvia stated that vengeance is a lazy form of grief. Another scene described a supposed African ritual that encourages families to forgive those who killed their relatives. It is believed that those who take revenge on the aggressor will never be free from their grief. This theme sounds a lot like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:34-35.
My Ratings: Average/3
— Bob Rossiter, age 45
Positive—I think that this film shows us what kind of profession—enterpreter [interpreter]. You think, that they just interpreting speeches, but actually no. They are really trying to figure out that country is trying to speak, how they try to help people talk, not fight.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Marian, age 18 (Ukraine)
NeutralNicole Kidman and Sean Penn give excellent performances. The action is filmed beautifully and the few bits of humor are sprinkled in just the right places. There are a few instances of blood and gore, but not too overdone; I was able to look away breifly to avoid it. I winced at the use of profanity in a few places, but again, not too overdone in this film. No sexual scenes; brief references to sexual comments if you listen closely, but not obnoxious.

The main reason I rated this film so low was that it truly just fizzled out at the end. It spends the whole time building up for a let down. it’s not even an ending that you wish would have ended differently, it just flops at the end. With all due respect to the wonderful actors in “The Interpreter,” I would not recommend this film to a friend, nor would I see it again.
My Ratings: Average/2½
—Ruth Berry, age 43
Neutral—I completely agree with every point in the above review made my Ruth B. I would add that these two main characters never captured me. Start to finish, it looked as though Sean P. and Nicole K. were pretending to act in a movie. They never morphed into the “detective” and “translator” they were portraying. I kept waiting for a surprise, a mystery, a secret to shock me and make forget that I was sitting in a theater. Nope. Nothing. We didn’t even talk about the movie on the way home. That says something, doesn’t it? I recommend it if you have time to kill, but not for those who are seeking to be truly entertained.
My Ratings: Average/2½
—Diana O, age 36
Positive—My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I can remember only one scene when God’s name was taken in vain. However, overall there was amazingly very little profanity, and no nudity or sex. I can’t imagine what Ruth or Diane expected from this movie. I totally agree with Ruth’s first paragraph. However, I totally disagree with her later remarks, as well as with Diane’s coments. We left the theater entertained—our purpose for going to the movies—without feeling offended.
My Ratings: Better than Average/4½
—Roxanne B Suggs, age 43
Positive—With political correctness at its peak, it’s unusual to see a film that doesn’t immediately assume a completely one-sided bias in favor against force. “The Interpreter” is a thinking man’s film. It’s sometimes difficult to follow, but fascinates its audience through a labyrinth of twists and turns.

What surprised me about the movie is that it’s not as much of a thriller (although it delivers scares aplenty) as it is an exploration of grief and human nature. The only improvement that could have been made was more indication of who people were. The film is moving so fast that if you’re not paying close attention, you will rapidly become lost. It has a powerful message about justice taking precedence over vengeance, and learning to save your enemies lives in order to free your soul from becoming consumed with hatred.
My Ratings: Better than Average/4
Charity Bishop, age 22
Positive—Well-made and interesting, but it didn’t succeed at really drawing me in completely like few movies do—probably because I grew up in Africa, so the fact that a fake country was involved and a few other slightly weird things about it turned me off a bit. However, it is true that this movie is both better than most and has little objectionable material (considering its genre, what with an assassination plot and all), so the odds are you’ll enjoy it!
My Ratings: Better than Average/3½
—Stephen, age 25

Comments from young people
Positive—This movie was a movie that kept your attention, and you really put yourself in their shoes. I would totally go see this movie again.
My Ratings: Better than Average/4½
—Lindsey, age 13
Positive—I thought it was a very good movie—a little confusing at the begining, but good. There was one scene I didn’t enjoy, that was at the bar where the girl is almost wearing nothing. I went with my friends, and they really liked it. I enjoyed it too, but I’d say it’s for people over 13, maybe 15. It took me a little while to catch on. But all-in-all it was good.
My Ratings: Average/3½
—Rebecca, age 13
Neutral—…I was hoping to see a really good action thriller like the previews made it out to be. Instead I found the movie slow going and very little suspense or action. The story just seemed to grow and then completely flop at the end. It’s worth a rental, but not worth going to see in the movies. It just seems like something is lacking immensely, but I can’t place my finger on it.
My Ratings: Average/4
—Tim, age 16
Neutral—…My opinion of this movie is not long but strong. Strong in the sense that I must tell you that this movie could have been chilling and thrilling and suspenseful. It could have been on the level that the John Grisham movies are. But I must say that this movie didn’t meet my expectations. I’m not being negative about this movie nor positive. Just neutral. The commercials lead you to believe that this movie is “on the edge of your seat” exciting and worth all your bucks. Really it’s quite misleading.

Consider “The Interpreter” to be like Coca-Cola. It starts out as fizzy and bubbling and popping with a strong script and high suspense.But,surprisingly, once you’ve gone through about three-fourths of the movie,it gets flat and begins to drag. By the end, you’re wanting to leave and hit the bathrooms to relieve your bladder of its tortuous wait because it continues to drag and completely becomes a flat soda.

Now,as I said before, I’m not positive or negative in the feelings about this film. It’s just that there could’ve been a better script written for Nicole Kidman’s character, and you could figure out what she was really all about towards the halfway marker of the movie. Overall,I wouldn’t rate the movie high nor brutally low.If you want to go to see it, it’s your money, and this is just my perspective on this film. It’s got some good grabbers and a few twists and turns. Though they do leave you with a few strings left to tie and a few things that need clearing up. There’s some cussing in it. There are no sex scenes and some bloodshed.
My Ratings: Better than Average/3½
—C.M.W, age 16
Movie Critics
…the kind of polished, exciting treat the movies should give us far more regularly…
—Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
…has the sophistication and self-assurance of a Hitchcock thriller…
—Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
…It’s not many films-or filmmakers-that can keep you hanging midway between weeping and panic. But Sydney Pollack’s wonderfully old-school (read: coherent) political thriller The Interpreter pulls off this enviable trick not once but twice…
—Ian Grey, Baltimore City Paper
…all cloak and no dagger, a movie that pulls back the curtain to reveal—nothing. …Buildup is OK, …but it needs to go somewhere…
—Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic
…a taut and intelligent thriller…
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times