“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 to metaphorical overkill is clear. Speaking with his brother Robert (Michael Buscemi), Pierre’s guy-bonding ploy is a wretched failure; Robert remains unresponsive, head bowed and eyes closed, in an institutional interview room. At last Pierre leaves, the scene’s odious sentiment looming over the rest of the film: a self-styled combat zone renegade and fundamentally square “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, whom 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 DC, 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 one another 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 (journalism shapes his “personality,” as opposed to beauty effecting her career) 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.
All that said, Katya own wiles are also familiar, whether she’s messing with Pierre or “confessing” (or both). When she tells him a man is made “most attractive” by a scar, “because most women most women have one too,” you hope she’s kidding, though Pierre, apparently desperate for earnestness, seems not to get the joke. Knowing upfront that she’s tired of discussing her latest lover or breast surgery, he makes a minor effort to ask her the sorts of questions he might ask someone he respected — or cared to impress — the politicians who occupy his usual bit. But she knows, as you do, that they’re not any more honest than “celebrities,” whether or not Pierre would admit it.
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 sometimes surprising 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 DC scandal, she’s watching herself on the nighttime soap 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 one another 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.
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 has 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, self-doubt, or even his perception that he’s been outsmarted. Or maybe crafty Katya shows herself in victimizing him, or even better, in her self-deception. 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 (a sentiment that echoes Pierre’s presumptions). In any case, in revealing their many efforts at artifice and incapacity for truth, Interview tells a conventional story, after all.