(2005)3.5Perry SeibertJohn Ford supposedly said the most compelling image you can put in a film is a human face. John Ford would have loved directing Sean Penn. As he moves into middle-age, Penn has not lost an ounce of his skill as an actor. He is unable to do anything that seems out of character. But now his face has developed lines that, along with the grey hairs at his temples, give him a lived-in-look that reinforces his ingrained authenticity. The scene that introduces his character makes no sense -- the viewer is given no information about why he is drinking alone, unplugging a jukebox, or listening to outgoing phone machine messages. But it is a compelling sequence thanks to Penn's talent and his look. You know the character is experiencing something deep and painful even if you have no idea what it is. Director Sydney Pollack knows how to use his actors well. Nicole Kidman's character is supposed to be more mysterious so she does not get to be as emotionally open as Penn, but she is his equal in their scenes together -- scenes that snap with sparkling multi-layered dialogue. Some might be understandably bothered by the use of African genocide as a backdrop for a glossy Hollywood thriller, but the film is about the characters more than the plot. The central relationship between the pair is so deftly played, written so note-perfectly, and directed with such respectful understatement that their give and take helps to keep the audience blind to the film's faults. A superb suspense sequence involving three different tailings that end up with all of the watchers and the watched on the same bus shows that Pollack still has a great deal of skill behind the camera. The Interpreter is slick Hollywood entertainment to be sure, but it works because Pollack understands the truism spoken by John Ford.