The Reeler


July 12, 2007


The hack and the actress square off in overplotted character drama

Can it be quoted enough? Probably not: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” Janet Malcolm’s evergreen shot across the bow enjoys an ever-growing prescience even as the titular subjects of The Journalist and the Murderer shape-shift and recede to make way for carpetblogger journalism and a celebrity fixation so gnarled that a murderer would have to be a day player on Law and Order or bedding Jessica Biel to hold our national attention.

In that sense it couldn’t be more appropriate that the subjects of Interview, Steve Buscemi’s remake of murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh’s first entry in what was to be a trilogy, are a disposable starlet and a disgraced journalist relegated to the celebrity profile beat. Ironically, a featherweight piece about Katya (Sienna Miller) will probably garner Pierre Peders (Buscemi) more readers than anything he filed from Sarajevo. What is and isn’t morally indefensible becomes the issue that binds Pierre and Katya, two professional liars playing chicken with the truth; the viewer’s ostensible task is figuring out which one of them is too stupid or full of him or herself to notice what is going on.

Expanding Van Gogh’s constricted staging only slightly, Interview begins with a restaurant date that tanks before the chill is off the wine. Katya keeps Pierre waiting and the haughty journalist -- kept from a prime story breaking in D.C. -- doesn’t attempt to conceal his disgust at the nature of his assignment. Katya bristles in turn, but a minor traffic accident that occurs as the two flee the scene results in the actress inviting the hack back to her loft for some frozen peas and a solid mind-fuck.

Buscemi and Miller nail their roles well enough, but the dynamic between them is never quite as sensational as the screenplay seems to think; much of the repartee is awkward and airless and the exchanges meant to shock (things get personal very quickly) don’t make much of an impact. Pierre's M.O. is sticking around long enough to score a story that will put him back in the good graces of his editor -- he even snoops on her laptop while she natters on the phone -- and Katya is so bored with all of the attention she gets that Pierre’s indifference is the only thing that intrigues her. The dialogue veers toward the theatrical; Buscemi works to open up the space visually once inside Katya’s spacious loft, where the bulk of the film occurs, but when you start noticing the blocking of the actors as blocking, something’s not working.

And so the axis between contretemps and rapprochement plays out rather uneventfully -- we’re all whores, let’s be friends, etc. -- but when the film moves into a third phase, requiring the subjects to divulge secrets and commingle their sticky humanity like so many platelets, what was previously merely boring borders on the risible. Tables are turned and then turned again in a kind of Lazy Susan approach to plotting; a film like this needs a lot of things -- a stellar script, combustible chemistry, entrancing performances, inspired direction -- but what it does not require is a plot. Sprawling its intriguing capital in all directions, Interview falls short of each goal, even in reaching that commonest of denominators: the cinematic puff piece.

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