Dir Sydney Pollack.UK-US. 2005. 128mins.

Like the United Nationsitself, The Interpreter has an ambitious remit. It's a politicalthriller set in the halls of the UN's previously-unfilmed East Manhattanedifice. It's firing star power with Nicole Kidman as a mysterious African-bornUN interpreter opposite Sean Penn as a recently bereaved federal agent,complete with romantic sparks. There's bloody African politics. Terrorism.Genocide. The role of the UN. The issue of language itself.

But all the above arecrammed so tightly into a two-hours-plus story that the plot leaks like anApril shower long before The Interpreter reaches its mid-way point,intensifying to sub-Saharan Monsoon levels by the end credits. While TheInterpreter appears to take itself seriously, at least at the outset, itwould be a fatal error on the part of the audience to do so; this is a WorkingTitle confection operating outside hailing distance of reality.

Although pairing Kidman withSean Penn in a sophisticated political thriller will attract upmarket crowds,these are the potential cinemagoers most swayed by the mixed reviews that TheInterpreter will undoubtedly attract. Box office on opening should bestrong, but may peter out, and while casting should draw in the crowds, TheInterpreter may only be in it for the short haul. The film opens in the UKon Mar 15, followed by the US a week later.

Veteran director SydneyPollack opens proceedings with an intriguing interlude shot in Africa,providing murky context for the events which are about to take place at the UNheadquarters on the banks of Manhattan's East River. When US-born,African-raised, Sorbonne-educated interpreter Silvia Broome (Kidman) overhearsa plot to kill the corrupt and brutal president of Matoba, she - eventually -reports the incident and is investigated by federal agent Tobin Keller (Penn)and his partner Dot Woods (a delightful Catherine Keener).

It transpires that Silvia,also from Matoba and a fluent Ku speaker, has a more complicated backgroundthan meets the eye. Actually, in fairness, Silvia does seem an extremely, infact overly, complicated character from the get-go, but what is more perplexingis how the UN wouldn't do a cursory background check on its star interpreter.Perhaps it's in more trouble than we know.

As Silvia scoots aroundManhattan on her Vespa, bodies quickly mount up. There's also a gripping busbomb incident which really doesn't assist the plot in any way, but is excitingto watch. Meanwhile, the recently-widowed Keller learns something of Matobanfolklore, which helps him cope with his bereavement, and finds himself stronglyattracted to Silvia (Penn's performance is unusually, almost uncomfortably,emotive).

Sydney Pollack is so carefulnot to bloody The Interpreter's hands. He has crafted an entirelyfictitious African nation - Matoba - complete with its own Ku language in whichto base its dramatic elements. But while there are obvious strong parallels toZimbabwe, anyone expecting The Year Of Living Dangerously will bedisappointed.

That, despite its flaws, TheInterpreter remains watchable and somewhat involving - even if it's justtrying to decipher the increasingly-convoluted plot strands - must be largelyattributed to Nicole Kidman, soldiering through a creaky premise and adifficult character with all the grit of the Oscar-level performer that she is.

Chief amongst the pleasuresit has to offer is Khondji's opening up of the UN (thanks to Kofi Annan'sintervention), including sequences in its corridors and on the floor of theGeneral Assembly as the interpreters go about their business.

With that much evidenteffort having gone into the shoot, which is technically spot-on, it's all themore perplexing when Kidman is clumsily photoshopped into a key photographdepicting a protest in Matoba. A neighbourhood drugstore could have done abetter job. Why cut corners' It's just one of the many unanswered questions TheInterpreter will leave audiences mulling over afterwards.

Prod cos: MP Jota Prods, Working Title, Misher Films, MirageEnt
Exec prods:
Sydney Pollack,Anthony Minghella, G Mac Brown
Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner,Kevin Mishner
US dist:
Int'l dist:
Charles Randolph, ScottFrank, Steven Zaillian, from a story by Martin Stellman and Brian Ward
Darius Khondji
William Steinkamp
Prod des:
John Hutman
James Newton Howard
Main cast:
Nicole Kidman, SeanPenn, Catherine Keener, Yvan Attal, Jesper Christensen, Earl Cameron, SydneyPollack