I used to enjoy going down to Greenwich Village and take in an experimental play in one of the many small theaters. These productions were done by people who were truly committed to their art not the money and it showed. Many of the best plays were those with only two characters on a cramped stage. The intensity of the emotion was such that it could sweep the audience away. Some films have managed to capture this but they are few and far between. One recent film has managed this better than most, ‘Interview’. Now I usually don’t like it when an American cast and crew try to remake a foreign film. Most of the time the intent and focus is changed so much that all of the power of the original is lost. Again, this film succeeds in keeping true to the original film’s impact. Based on Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh movie of the same name the American transfer is excellent. There are some differences but in most cases it was done just to make the film relevant to an audience on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Noted character actor Steve Buscemi wrote and directed this work with loving care and attention.
While the Dutch version was tightly centered on the discussion between the two leads Buscemi opens the film up some in the first act. This doesn’t change the tone of the film it merely helps to provide some additional back story taking some of the exposition out of the discussion leaving room for more raw emotion. Van Gogh had intended to make and American version of the film himself but his life was tragically cut short when he was murdered by a fundamentalist Muslim group. Although Buscemi softens the characters to some degree he gives the audience a gripping psychological drama that does credit to van Gogh’s work. Buscemi acknowledges the master with little, subtle pieces of homage such as a moving truck with ‘Van Gogh Moving’ on the side and a cameo by the actress of the Dutch version, Katja Schuurman. One major derivation from the Dutch film is van Gogh’s work was done in adherence to the Dogme 95 guidelines. This prevents the director from bringing anything on to the set other than a simple camera, some crew and a cast. There are no props that are not natural to the setting permitted and no music other than what can be provided by a nearby radio or record player. While this makes for some interesting experimental film it is often overly restrictive and Mr. Busemi has opted for a more tradition method of creating his film.
A run down, alcoholic political reporter Pierre Peders (Steve Buscemi) would rather be in Washington D.C. covering some big breaking story happening in the White House. Instead the only assignment he can muster is an interview with a popular soap star Katya (Sienna Miller). While Peders is outraged he needs the work. She is not even a big star, B-List at best. Katya, no last name, is the starlet in numerous low level horror films and now is somewhat popular for her soap opera character. He views her as being better known for who she is currently bouncing in bed with than any possible talent. This may be beneath him but a job is a job. They initially met in a restaurant but an accident resulting in an injury to Peders’ nose cuts the interview short. Katya sense his distain of her and her career and wants to make sure she gets her digs in. She suggests that they retire back to her apartment to finish the talk.
Once there the focus shifts to wait we have been waiting for, the one on one confrontation between two people who can’t stand each other. He considers her fluff and self centered; she sees him as pompous and self important. Some drinks are poured to help settle down. Soon that leads to drugs when some coke is brought out. As the alcohol and cocaine begin to loosen the inhibition the two begin to square off. While a normal interview is a two way conversation usually it is limited to whatever project the subject is promoting. Here the feel is more like a ultimate fighter cage match. Two people enter the ring each set upon destroying the other. At one point Katya allows Peders to kiss her but no sooner than their lips part when a phone call interrupts than she blurs out she hates him. Truth is hidden by lies. Katya tells Peders that she has cancer, trying to bring down his defenses with sympathy. She then demands a truth from him He responds that he has fabricated some stories and he feels responsible for his wife’s death. They are both caught in a head long spiral down to get the best of the other.
I have always been impressed by the considerable acting talent of Steve Buscemi. He is an outstanding character who can add flavor to any film or television show he appears in. Back in 1996 my admiration of him greatly increased with the release of his freshman feature film as writer and director, ‘Trees Lounge’. Since then I have consistently looked forward to any project he was part of. He has honed his style as a director with such cutting edge cable series as ‘Oz’ and ‘The Sopranos’ (where he also had a featured role in front of the camera). This experience worked well for him here. His use of tight close-ups brings the action to faces of him and his co-star. Many actors want to direct and wind up staring in their own films but very few can do so with such talent on both sides of the camera. The direction is tight, not a frame of film is wasted. It has to be difficult for a director to manage a film where every centers on just two characters facing off. This is compounded by the fact that neither one is particularly likeable. Buscemi’s character underestimates his beautiful adversary. This is counterbalanced by her not understanding that the man facing her was once a real reporter. As a writer and director Busemi understands this and uses it to create the drama.
In many ways Sienna Miller has lived the part she plays here. Many people only know her for her tabloid fodder relationship with Jude Law. While her work in such films as the ‘Alfie’ remake and ‘Factory Girl’ would not give a hint this young woman is an actor of merit. Like Katya it is easy to underestimate Miller. She is always found on the entertainment gossip shows and is pushed into the part of a starlet with little ability. After seeing this film there is only one conclusion, nothing could be farther from the truth. She not only holds her own opposite a forceful and seasoned actor like Buscemi she manages to give the best performance of her career. Buscemi his not only an incredible writer, director and actor he saw something special in Miller and gave her the proper venue for it to come out. Together there is remarkable chemistry between the two; not the soft and romantic chemistry that is typically found between a man and a woman but a fierce competitive edge that draws the audience in and holds it there. Forget what you have heard and seen of Miller in the past, this is the role that should redefine her.
Sony Pictures releases this film to DVD with the attention it so richly deserves. The anamorphic 1.78:1 is excellent. There is a clarity exhibited here that is very well done. The colors are vibrant but not over done. The Dolby 5.1 audio is overkill. The sound stage is focused on the center with above average channel separation but the sub woofer is almost unused as it should be. The commentary track with Busemi is detailed enough so that it should almost count as credits in a film school. Here is a man passionate about every aspect of the craft he loves. This shows in the way he explains what was required to get this film to the screen. There are two behind the scenes featurettes that cover most aspects of creating this dramatic film. This is a gem that is required for any serious film lover.