In the movie, which kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday and opens nationwide this weekend, Kidman plays a tortured — but beautiful — U.N. interpreter who may have overheard an assassination plot.
Sean Penn (search) is the tortured — but sexy — FBI agent on the case. And it's the first time the U.N.'s interior has doubled as a movie set.
"I couldn't quite believe that we got access to the place, but we were grateful," Kidman told FOX News.
Director Sydney Pollack (search) ("Out of Africa") managed to negotiate his way into a location even Alfred Hitchcock could not secure for "North By Northwest." Pollack won over U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) and gained weekend and evening access, providing an intimate glimpse of one of the world's most private political strongholds.
"They [the people at the U.N.] have a lot of other things to do, like fix the world, but I think .... everybody is curious and drawn to what they perceive to be the glamour of Hollywood, and the fact that it influences so many people. Movies are such an influential medium, so close in a way to politics there is kind of a cross-fertilization there," Pollack told FOX.
In the film, Kidman plays Silvia Broome, who grew up in the fictional African nation of Matobo, whose liberator-turned-despot, President Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), is about to address the United Nations amid accusations of genocide against him.
One of those anonymous translators in the glass booths, Silvia overhears a cryptic exchange uttered in a rare language she happens to speak, which she interprets as a death threat against Zuwanie.
Federal agent Tobin Keller (Penn) and partner Dot Woods (Catherine Keener) lead the investigation, initially skeptical of Silvia's story and halfway convinced she has a hidden agenda of her own.
As the agents gradually come to take the interpreter at her word, a bond develops between Silvia and Tobin, each bearing symmetrical emotional wounds. Tobin's pragmatism collides with Silvia's idealism. His suspicious nature drives Tobin to question Silvia's sincerity. Her compassion prompts him to open his heart and perhaps overlook warning signs that Silvia is not the person she seems to be.
Associated Press movie writer David Germain gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying the film exceeds the sum of its parts.
"So much is right about 'The Interpreter' that it's easy to forgive the fact that the essential story is a static assassination plot whose climax hits with a dull thud instead of a sharp bang," he wrote in his review.
Germain described the movie as a pleasant change from standard Hollywood fare.
"For most of the way, it's a thoughtful melodrama crackling with sophisticated dialogue and understated suspense, a refreshing reverse of the bruising bombast of today's typical thriller.
"With the hush of their interaction and the film's subtle twists, 'The Interpreter' is a welcome throwback to suspense yarns of the 1970s, which had a depth of character and intricacy of motive generally lacking now in Hollywood," he continued.
He also had praise for the acting.
"The restraint of Kidman and Penn's assured performances, coupled with the screenwriters' incisive dialogue, makes 'The Interpreter' an engrossing affair for much of the way."
FOX News' Lisa Bernhard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.