Given that "Out of Africa" showcased Africa primarily as a great place for attractive white people to have sex, director Sydney Pollack is now a two-time offender in the "attractive white people teach us about black people" genre as "The Interpreter" may be the most blatant insult suffered by Africa since slavery.
The film revolves around U.N. interpreter Silvia Broomer (Nicole Kidman), who overhears a whispered plot to kill the visiting leader of the fictional (and dysfunctional) sub-Saharan African country of Matobo, President Zuwanie. Then, for reasons never fully explained, she flees the building like it's the house from "The Amityville Horror." It turns out Silvia grew up in Matobo. In fact, many moviegoers will be surprised to learn that she's the most African person on the planet. She speaks African dialects, cites African folklore, practices African customs, and even served a stint as an African revolutionary, despite the somewhat glaring fact that she's about two shades whiter than a bed sheet.
Warning: spoilers follow, but are so absurd you're not likely to believe them anyway. Silvia confesses a past romance with an African rebel leader, but then notes sadly, "then the politics of my skin got in the way." That's right, the plight of Africans victimized by racism now has a face, and that face is Nicole Kidman. Silvia confronts the discredited, black Zuwanie with a picture of himself as a boy exiled to the slums by white colonialists, and declares angrily, "That little boy was my country!" At one point, Silvia holds Zuwanie at gunpoint in a thinly veiled indictment of Africa's failure to govern itself. One notch higher on the self-righteousness scale and Kidman would have been standing alone in a room somewhere singing "We Shall Overcome."
Movies that elevate Hollywood's clueless, patronizing attitude to such a global scale have one name on their short list for male lead and one name only: Sean Penn. He plays secret service agent Tobin Keller, charged with ensuring Zuwanie's safety. Initially, Tobin suspects that Silvia is in on the plot somehow, but they grow close through the regurgitation of their mutual emotional baggage. Other key roles are a photographer (white), Silvia's brother (white) and the Matoban head of security (white). Black actors, however, do have their choice of several "dim-witted thug" roles.
Perhaps part of the problem is that three screenwriters are cited in the opening credits. Three screenwriters don't improve a movie any more than three prior divorces improve a marriage. "The Interpreter" is offensive, patronizing, dull, flatly embarrassing, and in my humble opinion should be considered an international war crime.
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