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Film / The Interpreter

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The Interpreter is a 2005 political thriller film directed by Sydney Pollack, starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.

A United Nations Interpreter, Silvia Broome (Kidman) returned late one evening to her work station and overhears a plot to assassinate Edmond Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), the leader of her home country. Fearing for her safety, a Secret Service Agent in Foreign Dignitary Protection (Penn) is assigned to investigate and keep an eye on her. The movie was the first ever movie to be filmed inside the United Nations including the chambers of the U.N. Security Council.

This was the final film Pollack directed.

This film features examples of:

  • Batman Gambit: Silvia's plan to assassinate Zuwanie is one that's hinging on 1) him coming to the UN to begin with and 2) going into the safe room where she is waiting.
    • Furthermore is the implication that she's been working at the UN for years hoping that this would happen.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Zuwanie is by all accounts a despicable human being, but Silvia eventually snaps and tries to kill him.
  • Bulungi: Matobo again. It's a recognizable Expy of Zimbabwe. Ironically, Zimbabwean censors did not find anything objectionable and allowed it to be released in the country.
  • Chekhov's Gun: It's an actual gun in this case. Dot comments on how frequently Zuwanie is photographed holding a gun. FBI Agent King says he'll bring it to the U.N. with him because world leaders don't have to go through metal detectors. During his U.N. visit, Silvia grabs the gun from him and threatens him with it.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Silvia is so familiar with the layout of U.N. Headquarters that one of her co-workers jokingly asks if she designed the building. This is how she is able to sneak into the Safe Room and confront Zuwanie near the end.
  • Child Soldiers: In one of the movie's earliest scenes, Simon and Xola are gunned down by two young boys carrying assault rifles. The boys appear to be completely desensitized to violence; there's almost no expression on their faces during the murder.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Averted. During the gun fight in Silvia's apartment, Gamba hides behind an inner wall. Tobin, who already knew the place, simply shoots through the wall and kills him.
  • Conlang: Ku, the official language of Matobo.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Sydney Pollack plays Tobin's boss.
  • The Dead Have Names: Simon's journal has a disturbingly Long List of people who died violently under Zuwanie's government. He lists their names and how they died and he includes photographs of a few of them. His project is complicated by the Matoban people who avert this trope; naming the dead is against their cultural beliefs.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Silvia and Tobin, mostly at each other. Also, Dot, a lot.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Silvia starts off as the protagonist, but she eventually snaps and goes on the run, intending to kill Zuwanie herself, leaving Tobin to stop both the assassination plots.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The entire time that that Dr. Zuwanie has a gun pointed at his head, he shows no emotion whatsoever, not does he when Tobin reveals to him that his False Flag Operation has fallen apart. It's clear that he's resigned to his fate, whatever it may be.
  • The Dragon: Lud to Zuwanie.
  • Dying Town: The African village that Simon, Xola and Phillipe drive through at the beginning. The town is largely deserted because most of the residents have been killed by Zuwanie's forces or have run away. Most of the buildings are covered in dust and obviously falling apart.
  • False Flag Operation: The assassination plot is actually being orchestrated by Zuwanie and his supporters to paint his opposition as terrorist thugs, designed to give him an excuse to crack down on his political opponents and boost support in his favor ahead of his indictment trial.
  • Fictional Country: Matobo is a loosely-disguised amalgam of Uganda and Zimbabwe.
  • Freudian Excuse: Given what her family went through at Zuwanie's hands. it's not hard to understand why Silvia's trying to kill him.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Dr. Zuwanie started as a freedom fighter, before becoming a notorious dictator. FBI Agent King comments on many rulers this has happened to: "They all begin as liberators and 20 minutes later they're as corrupt as the tyrants they've overthrown."
  • Genre Savvy: Kuman Kuman predicts the truth about who is behind the assassination plot early on, correctly analyzing how it's something a person like that would do (referencing the principals behind the Wounded Gazelle Gambit trope, and pointing out how it would benefit him in such a setting. That scene even gets a flashback once the authorities figure it out.
  • Government in Exile: Kuman Kuman, an opponent to Zuwanie's regime living in America.
  • Hidden Depths: Zuwanie does show a little guilt and introspection from time to time.
  • Internal Reveal: Silvia and the Secret Service finding out that her brother and Xola were murdered, which the audience knows from the first scene.
  • Job Title
  • Justified Criminal: Silvia is portrayed as this for wanting to kill Zuwanie, and doesn't even get arrested at the end.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Edmond Zuwanie is Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe in all but name.
  • Oh, Crap!: In the scene where Tobin's colleague Doug is tailing bad guy Gamba on a bus, just after Gamba gets off a passenger says "Would you look at that - guy forgot his lunch" and picks up a brown bag he left. Doug then says "Oh, man" when he realises that the bus is about to blow up...
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Zuwanie was initially hailed as a hero for his role in overthrowing an extremely corrupt government. Now he's internationally despised for his regime's many human rights abuses. Silvia herself snaps after she learns Zuwanie had her brother killed, and tries to assassinate him herself.
  • The Reveal: The initial assassins were an attempt by Zuwanie to deter his opponents from indicting him.
  • Sanity Slippage: Silvia has this after she learns about the death of her brother. She's so grief-stricken that she finally decides to try and kill Zuwanie herself. And the entire time she's holding him at gunpoint in the UN safe room she has a manic look on her face; it's clear that she doesn't give a damn about the consequences of killing a foreign dictator in the halls of the UN. It's only until Tobin threatens to shoot her himself that she ultimately backs down.
  • Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: Kuman Kuman is briefly suspected as having killed Daniel and Xola and possibly being behind the assassination plot but is innocent of both and says that he would have been willing to form a coalition government with Xola to oust Zuwanie and rebuild their country.
  • Sole Survivor: Phillipe to the opening massacre at the meeting he arranged. It causes him to have an attack of It's All My Fault.
  • State Visit: The film is set against an impending visit by the president Matobo to the United Nations, and the attempt to unravel an assassination plot against him before he arrives.
  • Teaser-Only Character: The opening scene focuses on Xola and Simon before they're gunned down by Child Soldiers working for Zuwanie.
  • Villain Protagonist: Silvia snaps toward the end and tries to assassinate Zuwanie herself.
  • Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide": Dr. Zuwanie claims that his actions are merely his way of dealing with "terrorists".
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Averted. Sylvia clearly and concisely explains what she overheard, and her tip is dealt with competently and professionally.