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July 18-24, 2007

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JoJo Whilden ©2007 Cinemavault, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
Talk to me: Steve Buscemi gets too close to his subject, Sienna Miller, in 'Interview.'

Battle of the Q&A

A journalist duels with a celebrity in 'Interview'

By Richard von Busack

TOWARD THE END, after he had become a national joke, Errol Flynn commented that he had wanted people to take him seriously, even if he had never given them a reason to do so. The one-named Katya (Sienna Miller) suffers the same problem. The star of Killer Body IV and TV's City Girls, Katya is better known for her liaisons and her boob-reduction surgery than for her acting. The Interview of this indie-film's title is Katya's long, up-close and personal session with dour and hard-drinking Newsworld magazine journalist Pierre Peders (a dick by any other name, and twice in this case), played by Steve Buscemi, the film's director, with glasses on and with a gruff, cut-the-crap-sister take on his evening with the famous lady. Internal and external scarring, and a taste for too much bourbon, complicates the game between hunter and quarry inside Katya's vast loft. Meanwhile, her cell phone keeps whimpering all night long—literally whimpering, since she put a whining puppy's voice on her ringtone.

There's something interesting going on here, and it's the bigger background, not what they are actually discussing. Pierre is a bitter ex-foreign correspondent busted down to the celebrity beat; from one angle, he looks like a casualty of the trend away from hard news and toward fluff. But the specifics of this particular dance don't evince any believability; the unscrupulousness is too thick even for celebrity journalism. We're supposed to accept Pierre's lack of professionalism, his refusal to have tried to find out a little something about her before the interview began.

But the sympathy goes to Katya and stays there, since she is an imposed-upon hostess. Once you are in your own home, being bothered by a guest, can't you tell any lie about yourself that you please? In a really equilateral movie, the balance between these two—the glamorous nonactress and the bruised, angry hack—would seem just about even. The film tries to keep things even with a matched set of lines: "I don't fuck celebrities." "I don't fuck nobodies." Interview insists that in every relationship—even in every interview—there must be a winner and a loser. I won't argue the point, even though the journalists I care about work very hard to be symbiotes instead of parasites. Maybe I'm focusing too hard on the specifics of this battle of wills, when it is supposed to be about all men and all women.

Even so, this contest is too one-sided for continued interest. We know early on where the chips will fall. And Interview also makes clear the division between a movie and what is essentially a filmed play. Compared to the limitless scope of a movie, we know the action can't leave this one room, that the two characters have to stay until they kill each other, fall sobbing into each other's arms or get naked. And wouldn't you know it, Buscemi is the one who ends up baring his chest. Buscemi shows his class as actor, his "funny-looking" man's dignity, his comedy within drama. His presence redeems this remake of a film by Dutch director Theo van Gogh. Miller is rising fast; she's easy on the eyes with her tattooed shoulders and a grown-out blonde dye job. She has too much firepower for the role. No one would ever confuse an actor of Miller's quality with a slasher-movie floozey.

Movie Times Interview (R; 83 min.), directed by Steve Buscemi, written by Buscemi, Theodor Homan and David Schechter, photographed by Thomas Kist and starring Sienna Miller and Buscemi, opens July 20 at CinéArts Palo Alto and Santana Row.

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