I’m sorry, I don’t get it – I don’t get the fuss over Nicole. I think her Oscar for The Hours was won by a prosthetic nose.

I’ve just seen Nicole Kidman’s latest two releases: Sydney Pollack’s political thriller The Interpreter, which opens today and the controversial Birth, which hits the screens on 28 April.

Birth is a curious film. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, who brought the brilliantly creepy and violent Sexy Beast to the screen, Birth ventures into the metaphysical world of rebirth.

Ten years have passed since Anna (Kidman) lost her beloved husband Sean to a heart attack.

Although still in love with him, she decides it is time to move on and accepts the proposal of the patient Joseph (Danny Huston -“ son of director John Huston).

When a young boy -“ also named Sean -“ arrives at the engagement party and announces he is Anna’s dead husband, her world rapidly begins to fray.

At first, she is sure this is a fake but, as Sean offers up intimate details of her married life, she gradually becomes convinced that the boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband.

Birth attracted a great deal of controversy over the relationship between Anna and the boy, in particular over two scenes.

In the first, the boy strips and joins a naked Nic in the tub and, in a later scene, the two exchange a not-quite chaste kiss on the lips.

But Birth is not a film about pedophilia: it is about grief and delusion.

The concern is pure Christian Right paranoia and the director draws a firm line about age of consent.

Stylistically, Glazer’s direction is detached to the point of autistic and the film is visually as cold as the Manhattan winter it unfolds in.

Kidman’s performance is melodramatic, rather like a 1940s Hollywood diva -“ Bette Davis perhaps.

Also on screen is another old dame, Lauren Bacall as Anna’s mother who thinks her daughter’s growing obsession is simply a passing phase.

All very strange and emotionally hollow despite the intensity of the story.

Ex-dyke Anne Heche makes a dowdy appearance as a shadow from Sean’s past. The inevitable plot twists do anything but save the film.

I’ve been trying to understand why I find our Nic’s performances often unsatisfying and I came upon a metaphor while buying my lunch last week.

As I mentally replayed her performance in Birth -“ her tremulous chest, her fluttering bloodshot eyes and her breathless swooning beneath a short dark wig -“ I was struck how like a salad sandwich she was.

You can see all the ingredients carefully layered to create the character -“ much like the lettuce, tomato, carrot and beetroot combo I found in my garden variety sandwich that day.

Then compare with the seamless performances of Hilary Swank, Julianne Moore and Laura Linney.

They -“ if you want another edible metaphor -“ are a hearty soup that has had a whiz in the blender. It’s almost impossible to work out what went in but wow -“ it tastes great.

However, Nicole’s performance in The Interpreter is a much superior adventure, helped along by a strong screenplay, a magnificent performance by Sean Penn and the adventure of a peek inside the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The Interpreter is the first production to be filmed inside the UN. Hitchcock tried with North By Northwest and was refused.

Like Birth, The Interpreter is another film centrally concerned with loss and grief.

At its core is the developing relationship between two very different characters who have both lost family in violent, disturbing circumstances.

Kidman is Silvia Broome, an African-born interpreter working at the UN.

Late one night in the UN Assembly, she overhears two people speaking Ku, an obscure African language that very few people at the UN understand.

What’s more, it is the language of her homeland, the (fictional) African nation of Matobo.

The plan is to assassinate the despotic leader of her homeland and Silvia, who believes fervently in the power of diplomacy, immediately alerts the UN.

Sean Penn is Tobin Keller, the federal agent assigned to investigate Silvia’s claims.

He doesn’t take anything at face value and, when he starts digging into Silvia’s past, he uncovers some connections that she wishes would remain secret.

Sydney Pollack delivers a skilful thriller with first-rate pace and tension.

He uses the conventional but very effective technique of parallel editing, allowing the story to develop across several locations at the same time.

Penn once again delivers gold with an understated but luminous performance as the federal agent who becomes very attached to his target.

Apart from turning on an atrocious accent, Nicole is quite solid -“ less salad and more meat than the peculiar Anna in Birth -“ so perhaps it goes to show what she can do with an accomplished director, co-actor and tight screenplay to play with.

Better, Nic, much better.

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