The Interpreter is a 2005 murder mystery and thriller.
10 out of 10 stars. Even though Sean Penn is in this, and I hate his acting, it is still worthy of 10 stars. This story stays with you long after the credits have rolled. How would you face the trial of the drowning man? I’m an old testament kind of person. I’d let him drown. Pure evil does exist and it doesn’t go away because you turn your back on it.
This film begins with three men being lured to an abandoned soccer stadium. There are rumored to be the bodies of massacred Ku here, killed by President Zuwanie’s men in an ethnic cleansing. One of them, the photographer Philippe, stays in the car. The other two, Xola and Simon, go into the stadium where three Ku boys are playing soccer. Since they are Ku, they trust the boys and keep going. The rumors are true. They find over a hundred bodies of brutally murdered Ku stacked six bodies deep.
Outside, the boys yell in Ku, “Someone’s coming!” Fearing for the boys’ safety, they run outside and are immediately shot by all three boys who now have assault rifles. As Simon lays dying, the boys approach him and say, “The teacher says good day to you.” Then they continue shooting him until he’s dead.
Philippe photographs all of this and hides when a car approaches and parks. Several military officers get out of the vehicle and a very tall man in a suit. That man is Zuwanie’s head assassin. The two men murdered are Ajene Xola, who the people want to replace Zuwanie, and his best friend Simon Broome.
A week later at the United Nations in New York City, an interpreter hears two men speaking Ku in the general assembly room after hours. They’re plotting the assassination of someone called “the teacher”. The interpreter is Sylvia Broome, Simon’s sister.
The next day on her way to work, Zuwanie’s assassin tries running her over and misses. When she gets to work, several nations are meeting in the general assembly and requesting that President Zuwanie be brought up on genocide charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague. So the head of the UN meets with Matobo’s ambassador who claims Zuwanie is an innocent teacher, not a murderer. Then he announces Zuwanie is coming to the UN in one week to address the general assembly.
Now Sylvia reports the threats she heard because she knows who the teacher is, Zuwanie, the President of Matobo. She tells them she heard someone whisper, “The teacher will never leave this room alive.” UN Security brings in the Secret Service. Apparently they protect visiting heads of state. A creep named Keller is put in charge of the case. He doesn’t believe her. So he asks the CIA to investigate her.
Meanwhile, Sylvia hasn’t heard from Philippe about her brother Simon for quite some time. She’s worried. So she leaves a message for Philippe.
The CIA tell Keller that Sylvia’s parents were killed by one of Zuwanie’s land mines when she was 12 and Simon was 13. Zuwanie mined the countryside, killing indiscriminately. So he has Sylvia take a polygraph. It’s inconclusive. Then Zuwanie’s head of security gives Keller a photo with Sylvia carrying a gun. He confronts Sylvia with the photo. She says it’s a peace rally. Then she tells him the real question is why does Zuwanie’s head of security take a photo and list the names of everyone in it? Because it’s a death list, something Zuwanie does.
Keller’s boss suggests he make Sylvia a target and use her as bait. So even though she said she can’t identify the voices because they were whispering, he tells Zuwanie’s head of security that she can identify the speakers. That night someone breaks into her apartment, steals one of the African masks off her wall, and waits on her fire escape for her to come home. Then he scares her and runs. Keller’s team discovers that man is the janitor at the UN who made a copy of Sylvia’s key in her purse in her locker at the UN. But Zuwanie’s assassin is ahead of them and has already killed the janitor because a hair was found in the mask and would lead to him. When Keller’s group comes to arrest the janitor, they find the assassin dressed like a janitor. He tells them he’s his roommate.
Keller is angry at Sylvia and keeps hounding her about what it is she’s hiding. So she tells him about the Trial of the Drowning Man, a ritual the Ku practice. (In the film notes, the filmmakers identified Matobo as Zimbabwe.) Once a murder has been committed, the victim’s family mourns for one year. At the end of that year, the tribe binds the murderer, takes him to the middle of the river, and dumps him in. Since he’s bound, he’ll drown without help. The victim’s family now has a choice, to save him or let him drown. If they save him, their grief and sorrow will end. If they choose to let him drown, they will mourn forever. Keller tells her about his wife. Less than two weeks ago she died. Here’s his story. His wife left him to run off with another dancer (she was a dancer too). It wasn’t the first time she’d run off and had an affair so he knew she’d come back. Less than a week later, she called him and left a message that she was coming home. Needing a lift to the airport, her lover gave her a ride. And deliberately drove into a highway abutment killing them both. He’s been a widower for less than two weeks. Keller says he’d let him drown.
Philippe finally comes to see Sylvia. He tells her everything that happened to Xola, but says Simon was not there which is a lie. He says that Kuman-Kuman set up the meeting. Kuman-Kuman is another opponent of Zuwanie’s who is in hiding in Brooklyn in the US because of Zuwanie’s death lists. Philippe tells her Simon is missing, so she jumps to the conclusion that Kuman-Kuman has him.
Because Kuman-Kuman is Zuwanie’s enemy, he’s being followed by the Secret Service. Because Sylvia overheard the death threat, she’s being followed by the Secret Service. So the next day when she follows Kuman-Kuman onto a crowded bus, both Secret Service agents are on the bus with their targets. And one of them spots the janitor’s roommate carrying a satchel, but he gets off. Sylvia confronts Kumon-Kumon with what Philippe told her. He never set up any meeting but he’ll check with his people about Simon. Sylvia gets off the bus with one of the agents. Even though Keller tells the other agent to get off, he doesn’t. Then he sees the satchel seconds before it explodes, killing everyone on the bus.
Keller is now outraged. A bus of innocent people and an agent are dead. So she tells him about Simon, Philippe, and Xola. After their parents died, they joined Xola’s peace rallies, but they increasingly became more violent when faced with Zuwanie’s death lists. She fell in love with Xola and they were lovers until it caused problems for him because he’s black and she’s white. So he dumped her. Then a boy tried killing her and she was forced to shoot him. So she put down the gun and came to the US to the UN to try diplomacy. Simon told her diplomacy takes too long and refused to speak to her after that. Philippe is friends to both Simon and Xola and acts as an intermediary between Sylvia and Simon. Simon has always made lists in notebooks, including a list of the murder victims of President Zuwanie. Sylvia buys blank notebooks for Simon and gives them to Philippe. He gets them to Simon. He also lets her know how Simon is doing.
That same night the Secret Service are called to Philippe’s hotel. He’s killed himself. Simon’s bag of notebooks is on his bed along with a letter from Philippe to Sylvia. After they’ve gone through the bag, Keller takes it to Sylvia and reads Philippe’s letter. Simon is dead. He was killed with Xola. Philippe set up the meeting, not knowing it was Zuwanie behind it. She adds Simon’s name to the list of people murdered by Zuwanie.
Meanwhile, Keller goes through Philippe’s photographs and sees the janitor’s roommate. So now he knows he’s Zuwanie’s assassin. He’s sitting in the apartment across the street from Sylvia’s keeping an eye on her. He looks up and the same man, the assassin, is in Sylvia’s apartment with a gun. He races across the street and shoots him. But Sylvia is not there. Apparently she snuck out earlier.
The next day is President Zuwanie’s arrival at the UN to speak to the general assembly. The Secret Service connects the assassin’s phone to several text messages to Zuwanie and a text that set off the bus bomb. There’s a text to a third man in Zuwanie’s delegation and remember their job is to protect visiting heads of state so they still have to protect Zuwanie from an assassination. When they find the man about to shoot Zuwanie, Zuwanie’s head of security kills him. But they already know that this was a fake assassination attempt orchestrated by Zuwanie to get sympathy from the UN delegates.
While the Secret Service ushers Zuwanie into a safe room, they’re interrogating Zuwanie’s head of security. Then Keller realizes Sylvia has been hiding in the UN safe room all night, waiting for this moment. They break in and she’s about to kill Zuwanie for murdering Xola and Simon, the two men she loves. But she can’t do it.
The film ends with Sylvia being deported and Keller going back to his job and the two of them parting as friends.
10 out of 10 stars. Loved Simon’s lists and Nicole Kidman’s delicate voice, perfect as an interpreter.