In The Interpreter (12A), Nicole Kidman works as a simultaneous translator for the UN. One night, when she thinks she's alone in the darkened General Assembly hall, she overhears an ominous phrase in a language that only a few people in America can understand. If she's interpreted it correctly, someone is planning to assassinate a visiting African president - a fictional character not entirely unlike Robert Mugabe. Sean Penn is the government agent called in to investigate. But when he discovers that Kidman grew up in the very country ruled by the African president - a fictional country not entirely unlike Zimbabwe - he suspects that her involvement may be deeper than she's letting on.
Directed by Sydney Pollack, The Interpreter harks back to the kind of conspiracy thriller that he and his peers were making in the Seventies. It's more contrived than those films were, but it's mature stuff with big political themes, damaged heroes and a plot you have to concentrate on. The only aspect that lets The Interpreter down is a last act which is ludicrous in at least eight different ways. The climactic assassination attempt might have been feasible with security precautions as they were in the Seventies, but it wouldn't have a chance today.
On the subject of that decade, The Amityville Horror (15) is a remake of a Seventies horror film that was based, very vaguely, on a true story. It's brought to you by the people who produced 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, another remake of a Seventies horror film that was based, very vaguely, on a true story. If it's originality you're after, then, you've come to the wrong address. Amityville is a haunted house movie, and there have been enough of those lately to make a haunted housing estate. This one, like most of the others, features a creaking swing, flickering lights, and a child's disturbing drawings. Its one innovation is to spell out a threatening message in animated fridge magnets, which is one of the least frightening sights imaginable.
The unlucky protagonists are a family which moves into a Long Island mansion with nothing wrong with it except some mould in the bathroom and a host of evil spirits in the basement. With little in the way of plot to occupy us, watching the film is a matter of sitting and waiting for the hunky hero (Ryan Reynolds) to start impersonating Jack Nicholson in The Shining. And just to keep you awake until then, every supposedly scary moment is accompanied by a sudden loud noise on the soundtrack, as if someone were bashing a sheet of corrugated iron with a hammer behind your head. It's startling the first time, but irritating the next 23.
Wild Side (18) portrays a Parisian ménage à trois consisting of a transsexual streetwalker, a Russian illegal immigrant and an Arabian-French rent boy. Bearing in mind every other film I've seen with such a cast, it was a relief that none of the characters is punched in the face, arrested, or diagnosed as HIV positive. Instead, they take a trip to the countryside to tend to the transsexual's dying mother, and the history of their relationship is shown as a jigsaw of fragmentary flashbacks. Again, it's a change to see such characters presented as vulnerable, loving people who are getting along fine, but this quiet, fuzzy film tells us nothing else about them.
There's a new print on release of Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (12A), from 1959. It's one of the shortest 160-minute films ever made, sped along by a Saul Bass title sequence, a Duke Ellington jazz score, and a no holds-barred courtroom clash that has less to do with truth and justice than with two attorneys battling to outsmart one another: James Stewart's aw-shucks huckster is up against the smooth George C Scott. You may well feel guilty that you're getting so much enjoyment from a scrutiny of rape and homicide.
In New Town Original (15), an Essex boy picks up a girl in a nightclub, then lives in fear of her thuggish ex-boyfriend. It's a courageous, but failed attempt to make a watchable British film with a frayed-shoestring budget and half an hour's worth of screenplay.Reuse content