A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie includes realistic representations of shooting deaths (in the first scene, committed by adolescent boys) and a terrorist bomb attack on a bus in Brooklyn. The political intrigue is occasionally complicated, involving discussions of assassination, genocide, racism, and the desire for revenge. Characters drink, smoke, and use some mild language (they also name and drink Starbucks coffee).
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What's the story?
THE INTERPRETER begins in Matobo, a fictional African nation, where a group of adolescent assassins kill two men who come to see a hidden mass grave. U.N. translator Silvia (Nicole Kidman) overhears an assassination threat when she's in U.N. headquarters after hours. Authorities are suspicious of Silvia's report, so they bring in Secret Service agents Keller (Sean Penn) and Woods (Catherine Keener). As Keller feels drawn to Silvia, her story turns more complicated, with more dead bodies, genocide in her homeland and murders and terrorism plotted by associates of the Matoban dictator Zuwanie (Earl Cameron). Though Silvia has her own grudge against Zuwanie, she tries to convince Keller that her interest in only incidental. Zuwanie plans an address at the U.N. (an effort to cajole the West/U.S., to maintain power), and Silvia is put under surveillance by the cops, the FBI, Zuwanie's security detail, and the apparent assassins. Keller discovers Silvia's past participation in rebel activities, and she seems related to a bomb on a bus in Crown Heights (the explosion and aftermath are harrowing).
Is it any good?
Sydney Pollack's thriller is at once topical and abstract. While its subject matter is immediate (African genocide, U.S. intelligence agency confusions, personal and collective traumas), it maintains a certain distance by setting its political and economic strife in a fictional nation that resembles Zimbabwe. The opening imagery is quite explicit.
The script alternates between preposterous and poetic (some of Penn and Kidman's exchanges are lovely), and leans heavily on coincidence. It's also troubling that Silvia's individual trauma tends to displace the genocide in Africa, a life-and-death issue that is slowly gaining more media attention, in fiction and other forms. That a white woman bears the visible burden of this violent history, however, obscures the high costs for black Africans, a conventional strategy to attract "mainstream" (white) viewers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the U.N.'s roles in world peacekeeping and diplomacy, as well as recent turmoils in Sudan, Rwanda, or Zimbabwe. Families can also talk about the way that children are affected by daily and traumatic violence. Is vengeance the only or most effective response to violence? How do you know when you can trust a friend or a colleague?
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