(out of 5)
The intellectual process by which a person decides to make a movie about political oppression in Africa and casts Nicole Kidman as its representative is one that completely escapes me; like many films of the past, this is yet another film to tell a black story through very white eyes. It’s also a tense and enjoyable thriller that wraps you up completely for the first two thirds and then, unfortunately, unravels in sentimentality towards the end. Kidman plays a United Nations interpreter who, through a series of accidental circumstances, overhears an assassination plot being hatched in the language of her small (fictional) African nation. The plot concerns the soon-to-be-visiting president of her country, who is seen as a tyrannical murderer by the world at large and is allegedly responsible for ethnic cleansing in his country. When various physical threats against Kidman convince the Secret Service (led by Sean Penn) that her claims to what she heard aren’t lies or delusion, it sets in motion a complicated sequence of personal revelations and plot twists that climax in a Manchurian Candidate-style showdown at the UN general assembly. Sydney Pollack, whose style of drawn-out, mellow pacing is his trademark, shows a surprising knack for a genre he hasn’t visited since Three Days Of The Condor, having no end of fun getting as much North By Northwest imagery out of the scenes at the UN headquarters as is humanly possible. The screenplay, however, descends into ridiculous melancholy in the final act that undermines the smart chills that preceded it. Kidman is irresistible as usual, her command of subtlety a totally engrossing experience in itself, but it still seems completely preposterous, as credible as she is, that she should be chosen as the poster-child for Africa’s broken spirit. Of interesting note, this is the very first time a film has ever been shot inside the actual United Nations building (the crew filmed on weekends when the assembly hall and surrounding corridors weren’t in session).
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Cinematography by Darius Khondji
Music by James Newton Howard
Production Design by Jon Hutman
Costume Design by Sarah Edwards
Film Editing by William Steinkamp