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"The Cowboys are going down." When Pierre (Steve Buscemi) makes his prediction for the coming football season, Interview is just beginning. But already, the film's inclination toward metaphorical overkill is clear. Directed at his brother Robert (Michael Buscemi), Pierre's sports-guy-bonding ploy is a failure; Robert remains unresponsive, head bowed and eyes closed. At last Pierre leaves, the scene's point looming over the rest of the film: A self-styled renegade and very conventional "tough guy," Pierre will be going down.
He can't know as he heads off to his current assignment, an interview with pop icon Katya (Sienna Miller), that his evening will become a contest of opposites — man and woman, politics and fluff, truth and fiction, even parent and child. He also can't know that Katya, who he disdains so self-righteously, is both more and less complex than her reputation as a tabloid-pages fave. Their encounter begins terribly, as she arrives at the restaurant an hour late (dreading the interview for her own reasons, including the fact that she's tired of being asked about her breast reduction surgery), and he has made it a point not to read her bio or see her latest film, Killer Body Part Four. "I don't usually do this," he grumbles, mad that he's been removed from his usual beat, politics and war zones. His resentment is ratcheted up by the fact that on this very night a story is erupting in D.C., having to do with the indictment of the "architect of the president's career."
Based on a 2003 movie by murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, Interview is not subtle. A series of contrivances leads Pierre to Katya's frankly stunning loft with a bump on his head (for which she provides a sack of frozen peas) and a profound resistance to completing the interview. Still, they persist, drinking and arguing, even kissing (unconvincingly) at one point, apparently unable to quit each other despite their repeatedly expressed antipathy and distrust.
The first problem — their shared hostility — is obvious and trite, at least in Pierre's mind. The assignment indicates Pierre's demotion at his paper, Newsworld, as Katya, renowned for her "killer smile," embodies the superficiality and self-absorption attributed to young, much-worshipped stars. "Is beauty important for your career?" he asks, by way of philosophical probing. Katya comes back with what may or may not be her best shot: "Is journalism important for your personality?" — reversing the relationship between terms and so revealing the flaw in the question.
If Katya understands her beauty as an instrument, a genetic accident that grants her means to ends (she jokes that she's "America's latest wet dream"), Pierre sees it as an unearned advantage, even a threat. "Are you good at seducing men?" he asks, as banal and self-serving a question as anyone might imagine. Katya plays along, noticing his own efforts to inveigle her ("What would be the point of telling me I was beautiful if you didn't want to fuck me?"), even as the film suggests Pierre is honestly struck (she is, after all, Sienna Miller). In turn, Katya resents Pierre's arrogance, his presumption that her work is unworthy and his is important.
And this leads to Interview's most potentially compelling aspect, despite its decidedly heavy-handed approach to it. Katya and Pierre's mutual distrust is predictable, but the movie emphasizes their sameness. Early in their evening, they split off to watch different screens: While he's invested in the TV opinionators describing how little information they have concerning the D.C. scandal, she's watching herself on City Girls, arguing with her fictional boyfriend. Both shows are about deceit and confession, paralleling the movie's narrowing focus, as Katya and Pierre proceed to admit to each other various secrets and misdeeds. She snorts coke in front of him, he shares a sad story about his dead drug addict daughter: It's never clear how true or manipulative either moment might be, but each seems to move its audience. Then again, Katya and Pierre might be faking their responses.
All this suggests that while confession is supposed to be ingenuous, in celebrity culture — political or pop — confession is as self-serving as any other performance. Hence the "interview" as a promotional device, whether selling ideas or products (or ideas as products). If the "good" interview reveals some detail that is not yet public, the "bad" one repeats what we all know already. (This would be another of the film's familiar oppositions that doesn't hold up when submitted even to the slightest scrutiny.) It could be, by film's end, that Pierre achieves a kind of truth in his vulnerability. Or maybe wily Katya shows herself in victimizing him. Or maybe, as so many reviewers have said, the film exposes the performers' talents, some going so far as to be surprised that the beautiful Miller keeps up with Buscemi. In any case, Interview tells a conventional story.
Directed by Steve Buscemi
A Sony Pictures Classics release