The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Interpretor (2005)

One of the worst good movies ever made.  Not as offensive as "The Green Mile," this story of African political strife and genocide without a single black actor to identify with is suspenseful, intelligently written, beautifully directed, and horribly miscast. By having Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman in the central roles of the Secret Service agent and the United Nations translator who uncovers a plot to assassinate an African despot, and not having a single black character who is not incompetent, villainous or a sitting duck, they transform what might have been a riveting drama into this year's "Mississippi Burning," where issues of deep and vital importance to African-Americans is converted into some kind of chess game for whites, like game wardens overseeing the poor ignorant, violent, helpless savages.  Incredibly offensive, especially when I have the definite impression that the Sean Penn role was written for Denzel (it has all the hallmarks, including a perfect excuse for the romantic sparks between SS agent and Kidman to fizzle), and they slid Penn in when they couldn't get him.  Did no one in any production meeting consider how this would play?  Or why couldn't the Kidman role have gone to a black actress?  She is playing an expatriot of the mythical African country.  How dare they have her as the sole voice of conscience, if they are unwilling to also speak to the horrific legacy of colonialism?  When I think of what this movie COULD have been...if, for instance, they had cast Denzel and Angela Bassett, he as the Black American, and she as an African woman of culture, intelligence, and deep emotional wounds...God, it makes me want to cry.  But they missed the boat. And didn't understand how they missed it.  And deserve to go down in flames for that.  Maybe.  Damn, I don't know.  These are my personal wounds, and I can't completely get past them.  If one or the other role had been played by a black actor, I'd give it an "A".  For audiences who want to remain blissfully oblivious to the racial politics that made such a casting decision possible, give it a "B."  But I'd say that the blindness that director Sidney Pollack displayed makes every aspect of this film suspect, and, recognizing that I am speaking more to my wounds than to any objective quality of the movie, I'm giving it an "F."  Like "The Green Mile," which used the image of a black man as a symbol without ever granting him actual humanity, this is a fine film that I will never, ever watch  again.


Anonymous said...

Intresting to read your commnet. The Interpretor is showed in Danish television to night. (29th of Jan. 09) In 2006 Le Carré published The Mission Song, also an African thriller. A filmscript true to that story would release another casting. Wonder if anybody is going to do a film out that novell?

Hilda Middelboe, Roskilde Denmark

I am only using the anoymous mode for convience.

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