The Interpreter

The Interpreter (2005)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending

Sydney Pollack's "The Interpreter" is one of the few movies I always wanted to see but never had the chance to – until now that is. When the movie was in theaters, the trailer looked promising enough to get me interested but I never could make the time to see it before it disappeared from the silver screen. Then when it came out on DVD and again, for some inexplicable reason I never found the time to view it. Fortunately on HD-DVD now I have finally had the chance to see this politically-charged thriller because it turned out to be a film I liked quite a bit.

Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) is an interpreter at the United Nations. Fluent in countless languages, one night after hours she accidentally overhears plans to assassinate a controversial African president. After some deliberation she decides to report the incident to the authorities and Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) is put on the case.

Keller does not believe the young woman at first and suspects her report may be politically tainted but gradually events occur that indicate that not only is the interpreter telling the truth, but whoever is behind the plot is also trying to get to her. But just then, Keller begins to suspect that Silvia Broome may not at all be who everyone believes she is as he unravels her history of growing up a White African girls in the middle of political turmoil.

The most striking thing about "The Interpreter" is the masterful way with which the plot twists and turns. Whenever you think you may have it all figured out, the story takes a sharp turn, forcing you to question your previous assumptions. This makes for an exceedingly exciting viewing. To add to it, Pollack's sure-handed direction, combined with great performances and the politically-infused story, "The Interpreter" is a thrilling and suspenseful movie that stands shoulders above your standard fare.

I am not big Nicole Kidman fan, but her performance in "The Interpreter" certainly worked for me. She plays the character for Silvia Broome to the hilt becoming a chameleon at time where the viewer never knows which traits of her character are an act, which are real and which hare designed to simply take you off-guard. It is a wonderful, convincing performance with a lot of power.
Equally impressive is Sean Penn as the tortured Secret Service agent who has his own bag of issues to deal with, paranoid to the extreme, never willing to believe anything at face value.

Universal Home Entertainment is now bringing "The Interpreter" to high definition with this HD-DVD version for the first time. The result is a presentation that is sharp and reproduces image details nicely but remains overall somewhat unspectacular. Don't get me wrong. This transfer is without blemishes or problems but overall it does not wow the viewer with an incredible amount of fine detail or super-subtle textures that you find on some other titles. But here's the thing. It is crucial to understand that all that is part of the film's design and cinematography and not attributable to the transfer itself. "The Interpreter" is Universal's first AVC-encoded transfer and I can already hear people jump up and down, blaming AVC for poor quality, when in fact it has nothing to do with it. What people do not realize is that among the popular encoding scheme there is no "good" or "bad" one. They are all exceedingly good if handled properly. The AVC encoding on display here is solid and no noticeable artifacting has been introduced. The cinematography of the movie often creates images with extremely saturated colors and brutal contrast, which throws off the image balance quite a bit and creates a look that is not lending itself to the super-detailed imagery we get to see in some other films. It is simply an entirely different thing looking at a deep focus daylight shot of the Arizona desert in "The Searchers" than looking at an artistically color/contrast-massaged apartment interior in the twilight from "The Interpreter." They are tow different beasts entirely and Universal may actually have used the AVC encoding scheme because it handles this particular sort of material better than, VC-1, for example. If there is no detail in the shot to begin with, no encoder can – or should – show any.
The film does have a number of incredibly detailed shots also, however, especially natural-looking daylight scenes and the interior of the United Nations in assembly, for example.

To drive home the paranoid and suspenseful plot, the movies also features an incredibly active sound mix that is presented on this release in 5.1 dts as well as a Dolby Digital Plus track. Though dts tracks used to be the reference call in DVD-land, this is no longer the case as this Dolby Digital Plus track easily proves. With its increased bitrate, this track is creating a sound stage that is exceptionally dimensional and holds an incredible amount of spatial information. The mix of the film is making very good use of the surround channels and placement of both sound effects and music instruments to drive home the story. James Newton Howard's score is presented in such a lively fashion on this disc that you feel like you can pinpoint every single instrument, hear each one of its lines and distinguish the slightest change in timbre. In short, this is a very exciting audio track that makes the best of the format's capabilities.

The HD-DVD version features the same extras that were found on the DVD version, starting off with an informative commentary track by director Sydney Pollack. Always entertaining and fun to listen to, Pollack talks quite a bit about the making of the film, some of the artistic decisions and the overall production of the movie. There is a great deal of additional information and insight to be found here so check it out if you enjoyed the film.

Next up are four featurettes covering the making of the movie and topics it touches. "From Concept to Cutting Room" for example is covering the genesis of the project and the making of the film while "A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters" gives you a bit of an idea of the line of work these people are in and what it takes to be an interpreter – much more than just understanding a language.
"The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations" is an very cool and interesting featurette on using the real United Nations building as the location to shoot the movie.
The last featurette "Interpreting Pan & Scan Versus Widescreen" is a bit out of place here, though. While Pollack's discussion how the framing of a picture changes its atmosphere and mood is important and valuable, it was a segment targeted at DVD owners. With high definition, fortunately, we no longer have to have these sorts of discussion as the format is by definition a widescreen presentation platform and I do not expect pan&scan versions of movies to appear in HD-DVD.

Last but not least you will also find a selection of Deleted Scenes and an Alternate Ending on the disc.

"The Interpreter" was fun ride to watch. Thrilling, unpredictable and suspenseful, it is a solid thriller from beginning to end. This high definition version makes watching it even more fun, as we get to enjoy the movie's entire glory and sound.