By Matt Singer
[Photo: “Interview,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]
A good interview should be insightful and revealing. To be sure, the interview in “Interview” isn’t a good one, but it would be nice if the film had a little of those qualities. It does not. The film places us in a room with two characters and their accumulated mishegas but it doesn’t have enough intellectual curiosity about them to keep our attention.
The two characters are Pierre, played by Steve Buscemi, and Katya, played by Sienna Miller. He is a political journalist who has roiled his editor and gotten, in his estimation, a punishment assignment: a profile on an actress of schlocky horror and TV shows. He shows up to the Meatpacking District restaurant where they’re meeting in a surly mood, not caring even to feign interest in her or her work. She reacts, appropriately, with disgust, and so the interview ends before it has begun. The screenplay by Buscemi (who is also the film’s director) and David Schecter, from an original film directed by the late Theo van Gogh and writer Theodor Holman, is particularly effective in this scene, pointing out the sheer size of the divide between our protagonists: Pierre is scolded for daring to use his cell phone while waiting for Katya; Katya uses hers and the maître d’ gives her a better table.
So far, so good but only so far. A more interesting and honest movie may have followed Buscemi’s character as he tries to write something based on the non-interview. I was reminded of a recent episode of “This American Life” that told the story of a young journalist thrust into an assignment for which she was unprepared, and the international uproar her article which she invented after her interview went awry sparked. But here a contrivance pushes Pierre and Katya back together, and then one after another keeps them that way. The two adjourn to her beautiful loft where they continue their arguments, get drunk, get high, reveal dark secrets about themselves and, most unbelievably, nearly have sex. Good or bad, it is in an interview, and it should feel at least a little spontaneous. Unfortunately, once the action shifts to Katya’s turf, “Interview” feels predetermined by its writers rather than by the actions or feelings of the characters.
The film has several points to make, about the media’s self-fulfilling poor opinion of young starlets and the inherent untrustworthiness of anything you might read in a newspaper or magazine. To the degree that they come across loud and clear, it is successful. But the two people used by Buscemi and Schecter to make those points aren’t particularly watchable, and neither is the no-frills way in which Buscemi stages the action. We’re left, then, to focus on what Pierre and Katya say and do, and that too feels forced by an unseen hand. Through the final act the two compete in a weird form of tragedy oneupsmanship (“My father’s dead!” “Oh yeah? Well, I am diseased!”), while the writing gets even more ungainly. “I want to know what’s haunting you!” Buscemi pleads, “Because I’m haunted too.” With that sort of material, no wonder Pierre got stuck with this gig.
With just two actors onscreen for most of the runtime, there is plenty of time to ponder their impact, particularly Miller, who continues to get cast in big parts and continues to fail to deliver in them. She’s a master of accents, but not of acting. As her slinky turns in “Layer Cake” and “Alfie” attest; the camera loves her. But her performances are all waterworks and screaming without the underlying emotional core, flashy but empty. We see her going through these personal upheavals but we don’t believe they’re actually happening to her.
Ultimately, “Interview” comes down to this: it is a movie about two people in a room. The people aren’t terribly interesting, but, boy, what a room. Under other circumstances, I could see a great movie taking place there.
“Interview” opens in limited release on July 13th (official site).