Ask any journalist for a good story, and some of the best will involve celebrity interviews. Not often, but sometimes it's possible to connect in a very special way with someone who's used to having mostly superficial human interaction and receiving more adulation than probably anyone deserves. Treat a celebrity like a regular person, and all sorts of interesting things can happen.
That's the premise behind "Interview," which is a remake of Dutch director Theo Van Gogh's 2003 film by the same name. But there's a more touching story behind it all. Van Gogh had planned on remaking three of his films in English and setting them in New York City, but he was murdered in 2004 before he could see his dream realized. And so long-time partners Gijs van de Westelaken and Bruce Weiss wanted to honor his memory by signing on American directors to collaborate with members of Van Gogh's original film crew. Steve Buscemi wanted in. Perhaps best known to viewers as Tony Blundetto from "The Sopranos," Buscemi had directed a number a TV episodes and feature films, including his most recent, "Lonesome Jim" (2005). He liked the idea of the living memorial, and he felt an immediate connection to "Interview."
If ever a screenplay depended on the ability of two actors to pull it off, it's this one. There are only two principal characters, and they have to hold our attention for 84 minutes. Both actors do just that. Sienna Miller ("Casanova," "Layer Cake") is perfect as the pop diva and TV/film actress who's become an international celebrity largely on the strength of her eye-candy performances in slasher films. And as the jaded journalist who's been mostly a war correspondent and now sees this puff-piece assignment as the worst sort of insult, so is Buscemi.
We only see journalist Pierre Peders in one scene prior to the interview--when he visits his brother in a mental ward--and we only see Katya in a single scene as well, so our view of their separate worlds is really very limited. That's one reason why the screenplay succeeds. The interview presents an opportunity not only for the characters to interact in the moment, but to learn about each other. And as they learn, so do we.
When Pierre arrives at the restaurant where they're supposed to meet, Katya is nowhere to be found. She's a no-show, he tells his editor, begging to be released from the assignment so he can get on a plane to Washington, D.C. to cover a breaking story. But after an hour, in walks the star, oblivious to the fact that she's ridiculously late because she flat-out forgot. Bottom line: neither one is happy to be there, and neither one wants to do the interview.
Naturally, things get off to a rocky start, as the revised script by Buscemi and David Schechter gives each of them some pretty bitingly sarcastic lines to exacerbate the tension. The interview looks to be over when Katya walks out, but when she inadvertently causes an accident and (in the script's most illogical turn) takes Pierre to her nearby loft apartment to patch him up, it sets up a night of drinking, whining, complaining, sparring--even semi-sexual shenanigans.
At one point, after Pierre collapses Katya's hammock and they both end up on the floor, in the film's second most illogical turn they rise and begin dancing together. Now, as a metaphor, it couldn't be more appropriate, because they've been figuratively "dancing" with each other all evening long. But at this point it struck me very much as an improv exercise. In fact, the entire concept seems straight out of acting school: Here's your situation, now run with it!
That's the downside of this otherwise intriguing independent film. Through no fault of the actors, partly because of those illogical moves it feels like an exercise, at times, rather than a voyeuristic glimpse into two lives that briefly intertwine. And their time together ends almost as abruptly as it began. Those are my complaints.
But Buscemi and Miller run with the snappy dialogue. Sometimes they seem like warriors, lobbing sarcastic grenades at each other with refined and composed fierceness. Other times, it's a "dance," or a mutually probing and confrontational discussion that makes them look like two interviewers in search of a subject. And still other times their rancorous riffs seem to take on the improvisational quality of jazz musicians trying to show up the other. There are more head games going on in this 84-minute film than you normally see in a half-dozen movies. Ultimately it's interesting, but not always believable.
I've been watching so much HD lately that standard def feels like a "def" sentence. DVDs can look surprisingly ordinary in their visuals. "Interview" has a decent-enough picture, but there's a slight graininess throughout. Colors are well-saturated, though, and the graininess is there mostly if you're looking for it. Relax and enjoy this dance, and you probably won't even notice any shortcomings in video quality.
"Interview" is almost all dialogue, so it's tough to gauge the effectiveness of an audio track, except perhaps to say that there's no apparent distortion, and the sound quality seems perfectly natural. There isn't much in the way of rear-speaker action, but that's to be expected. Everything comes from the center speaker and front mains. Subtitles are in English (CC) and Spanish.
There are only a handful of extras. Buscemi's director's commentary is pretty interesting. He talks about why he got involved with the process, and why he had to audacity to cast himself as the lead. Turns out he directs through his acting, and so it seemed a natural for him. Miller was fine with that, we learn on one of the other very short bonus features on "behind the scenes" and "Triple Theo, Take One." There's mostly basic information here, nothing that would make you raise your eyebrows or applaud.
Two interviewers in search of a subject. That's the best way to describe this natural-feeling yet sometimes artificial two-person show. Despite a few illogical leaps and the feeling that at times you're watching two actors act out an improv situation for class, "Interview" is still a fascinating 84 minutes. Buscemi's and Miller's performances are enough to make me go to a 7 on this one.