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During the course of the compact, 83-minute Interview, variations on the line “Do you realize that you’re unpleasant?” are spoken approximately 216 times. It’s possible that some of those sentiments are actually just bouncing around your brain, a natural consequence of watching two actors exercise their chops so strenuously that you’re the one who’s exhausted.
Steve Buscemi’s Interview is a remake of a 2003 film of the same name by slain Dutch director Theo van Gogh. Buscemi, who adapted the original script with first-time writer David Schechter, also plays Pierre Peders, a political journalist who has been relegated to doing a celebrity profile for his magazine. His subject is Katya (Sienna Miller), a starlet with a Sex and the Citynlike show on TV and loads of mass-appeal movies in the can. Though Pierre is itching to get out of the interview so he can cover a breaking Washington scandal, he’s scheduled to meet Katya at a restaurant one night. She’s an hour late; we see her telling a friend earlier that she “thinks she has to be somewhere.” When she finally arrives, the privileges Katya enjoys are obvious: No one balks as she talks on her phone in the cell-free restaurant, and the people already sitting at her favorite table cheerily scoot to another one.
Pierre hardly disguises his disgust—if not exactly at Katya, at what she represents—and proceeds to conduct a half-assed interview. It’s clear that he hasn’t bothered to prepare. When Katya calls him on it, they both forget about trying to be civilized and decide to just get the hell away from each other. Doesn’t work: Pierre ends up in a cab with a driver who’s too busy harassing the on-foot Katya to avoid hitting a parked van. Katya suddenly feels bad about her behavior and brings Pierre, who’s got a gash on his forehead, back to her loft for first-aid, booze, cigarettes, and lots of mood-cycling and conversational jousting.
Interview is at once captivating and infuriating. It’s theatrical in its spareness—there are no time jumps, costume changes, or even much of a plot, just Pierre, Katya, and lots of soundtrack-free talk. Buscemi and Miller are sharp in their portrayals of the jaded journo and misunderstood ingénue who quickly drop professional pretense and try to get to know each other more casually. The problem is that the characters are too mercurial to even come across as believably nuts. It’s not much fun watching, say, Katya talk Pierre into letting her kiss him, only to wriggle free from the embrace and shout, “God, I hate you!” Or listening to him meltingly say how beautiful she is one moment, then offer a bitter armchair-psychologist analysis about her lack of talent: “You’re good at lying, but mostly to yourself.”
The whole spectacle—and with the two characters going hot and cold on each other every few minutes, answering questions with questions and “playing games,” it is a spectacle—is fashioned as some kind of ridiculous power struggle, an attempt by each to intellectually and emotionally one-up the other. Unsurprisingly, all of their back-and-forth about their careers, families, ideas about love, etc., are merely steps on the way to the Big Reveals, the kind that seem to come to light only during encounters involving late hours, drink, and a love-hate dynamic. Interview’s whiplash turns may make it a dream addition to an acting- or scriptwriting-class syllabus. But by the film’s halfway point, viewers will more likely sympathize with one of Katya’s pained questions to Pierre: “Haven’t you got enough already?”