The Interpreter’ translates to incisive, suspenseful and timely

By and

“The Interpreter”

Universal Pictures

Directed by Sydney Pollack

Written by Scott Frank, Charles Randolph and Steven Zaillian

Starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn

Opened April 22

Rated PG-13/130 minutes

Three and a half out of four stars

Director Sydney Pollack’s “The Interpreter,” an apt throwback to trenchant 1970s political thrillers such as “The French Connection” and “The Conversation,” delivers an immaculately crafted, tightly wound rubber-band ball of geopolitical intrigue-despite its premise’s utter impossibility.

Overlooking the unfeasible-a person effortlessly bypassing the United Nations security measures, for example-is not as difficult as one might think, especially when a film offers something unusual. Unlike many of its genre brethren, “Interpreter” conveys a raw empathy, an altruistic, globally conscious worldview woefully underrepresented in mainstream American cinema.

In depicting a lamentably typical African dictatorship, “Interpreter” sidesteps empty political query in favor of identifying the human, personal effects of autocracy.

“Interpreter” culls from the mounds of political debris and Western apathy a distilled, oft-neglected-maybe even forgotten-message: The anonymous statistics from which the directly unaffected are easily removed actually comprise unfathomable numbers of individual lives, each inextricably bound to myriad others.

We, the privileged, are spared from such enormity-but for how long?

Nicole Kidman plays Silvia Broome, a multilingual expatriate interpreter from the fabricated Southern-African country of Matoba. She came to America years earlier to aid in the diplomatic process, to lend her efforts in positively effecting change in her tattered country.

After hours one day, Silvia returns to her broadcast booth and overhears whispers of a plot to kill Dr. Zuwanie (played by Earl Cameron), the once-messianic-revolutionary-turned-malevolent Matoban despot.

To avoid prosecution for crimes against humanity in the International Court (he’s responsible for unconscionable atrocities), Zuwanie is scheduled to speak to U.N. delegates.

After an ominous Lincoln Towncar tries to decimate her on a busy New York City street, a terrified Silvia approaches U.N. security, which promptly turns over jurisdiction to the Secret Service.

Enter Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), a jaded veteran agent tormented by his wife’s recent death. Initially, he disbelieves Broome’s story, and after digging up vestiges of her shadowy revolutionary past, he is more inclined to believe her a conspirator than a victim.

Gradually, as coincidences become too coincidental, Keller finds himself in the thick of a gen-u-ine cabal, in which it is wildly unclear who is trying to kill Zuwanie and why.

Penn, looking lead-lidded and inconvenienced as ever, portrays the heart-shredded Keller with unexpected delicacy. His face harbors a contained agony, almost as if each day without his wife etches a new trench into his already weather-beaten mug. He and Kidman share an authentic chemistry, one not impelled by lust, but by a mutual need for support.

Kidman’s fluent speech (in several lilting languages) and disarming emotional potency firmly anchor her performance in the superb.

In light of genocides in Rwanda and most recently the Darfour region of Sudan, “The Interpreter” is especially timely. Most Westerners cannot begin to conceive of such atrocity, yet every day, in virtually every part of the world, violence is a constant.

The film begs the question: At what point does humanitarianism trump hegemony?

When will the needs of an individual (multiplied one-million-fold) outweigh the desire for political equilibrium?

Place your bets at the desk.

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