To forgive or to avenge

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:00am

The Interpreter is a ticking-clock thriller that meditates on the moral dilemma of forgiveness and vengeance.

The film opens with a tense scene in which a black political leader of a fictional African country Matobo and a mysterious white man are shot to death by children in a deserted football stadium. It then proceeds to some extraordinary shots of political leaders and UN staff evacuating the United Nations building following a safety warning.

Silvia (Nicole Kidman), a UN interpreter, returns to the empty building at night to collect some personal belongings. She overhears a plot to assassinate the president of Matobo, who is soon to deliver a speech at the UN general assembly to evade responsibility for ethnic cleansing in his country.

Investigating the case is agent Keller (Sean Penn), an apparently stone-cold investigator whose life is in tatters after his wife is killed. He accuses Silvia, who has a suspicious political background, of lying. But affection between them grows as the two gradually unfold their painful life stories to each other.

Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack's story-telling is first class. There is no flashy camerawork or expensive special effects - only well-designed shots and precise editing - to build up the tension. The sequence in which Silvia, a Matobo political leader, the suspected assassin and the secret agents all end up boarding the same bus that is about to explode is a thrilling tour de force that will keep you on the edge of the seat.

The script, written by Charles Randolph, Scott Frank and Steven Zaillian, is full of unexpected twists and turns. But apart from the action and suspense, there is also a fistful of human drama brilliantly played out by Kidman and Penn.

'Vengeance is a lazy form of grief,' Silvia tells Keller, who is haunted by the tragic death of his wife until he lets go of the hatred. In times of global war and terror, Silvia's remark is thought provoking.