'Interview' Doesn't Have Much to Say

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2007

The story behind "Interview," which stars Steve Buscemi as a hard-news reporter and Sienna Miller as the celebrity he's forced to interview, turns out to be more interesting than the movie itself.

The English-language remake of a 2003 Dutch film -- also called "Interview," and directed by Theo van Gogh -- was made in tribute to van Gogh, who was gunned down three years ago by a religious fanatic who was offended by the anti-Islamic commentary of another van Gogh work. (The short film, "Submission," features a naked actress in a see-through chador, her body painted with Koran verses that, the movie argues, advocate abuse against women.)

The American "Interview" is the first in a planned trilogy of van Gogh remakes, which will continue with English versions of his "06" (to be retitled "1-900" for American audiences) and "Blind Date." But if "Interview" portends anything for the series as a whole, it's that Europeans and Americans march to different drummers.

There's no mistaking the latest movie's good intentions, however. Buscemi, who also directed and co-wrote it, recruited van Gogh's cinematographer, Thomas Kist, to reproduce the documentary-feel, three-camera style he brought to the original. Buscemi and co-writer David Schechter have Americanized and modernized the story -- with timely references to Iraq and so forth -- but essentially revisit the original screwball noir plot. Pierre Peders (Buscemi), who lives in a world of serious news, is upset he's been assigned to interview a bimbo. And the no-last-name-thanks Katya (Miller) is furious she's stuck with a philistine who doesn't know her work.

Miller fits the "it girl" profile, thanks to her sexy appearances in films such as "Layer Cake," "Factory Girl" and "Casanova" and her real-life role in the tabloid saga starring herself, Jude Law and a nanny temptress. And the posture-challenged Buscemi -- the snaggletoothed crown prince of indie movies, such as "Fargo" -- has perfectly cast himself as the hangdog reporter.

But Buscemi's and Miller's characters remain abstractions in the service of the story, as opposed to believable personalities of their own. Miller is reduced to a superficial, cocaine-sniffing harridan who -- despite Pierre's contempt for her -- keeps begging him to stay. And as Pierre, Buscemi's intensity, which has served him well in so many films, suddenly seems embarrassingly forced. The more they resort to histrionics -- yelling, fighting and insulting each other -- the further they recede from us.

Without even seeing the original -- it has never been released in the United States -- you can see what they're aiming for: an extended chamber piece in which two ideologically opposed characters are slowly drawn together, as their deepest secrets, flaws and vulnerabilities rise to the surface. But -- call it New World sensibilities vs. Old, or Buscemi's instincts for realism vs. van Gogh's love of abstraction -- "Interview" comes across as clumsy and pretentious, a cultural fender-bender more than a heartfelt homage.

Interview (83 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema and AMC Loews Shirlington) is rated R for profanity, sexual content and drug use.

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