A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends at work introduced me to a new term to describe a much beloved subgenre of movies like Conversations with Other Women that primarily involve two characters doing nothing much other than talking the entire film. She called movies like that “verbal volleyball,” and having finished the 2007 film Interview, the term seems especially appropriate. It’s been a while since I watched a movie that was this “talky,” and while I wouldn’t be willing to put Steve Buscemi’s adaptation of Theo Van Gogh’s 2003 Dutch film of the same name in the same league as Conversations with Other Women or other titans of the dialogue-heavy field (like Chasing Amy or Reservoir Dogs), it was a well-acted and sharply scripted treatise on the way we exploit those around us, the often false assumptions we make about celebrities, and the psychological power of deception. Though there was a stretch in the center of the film where it really flexed its psychological insight, a more uneven and forced ending (as well as a dull beginning) kept this film from living up to its total potential.

When political correspondent Pierre Peders (The Big Lebowski‘s Steve Buscemi) is asssigned to interview tabloid-bait slasher film actress and TV primetime soap star Katya (Sienna Miller), an unexpected night of psychological games and power-plays emerges. Resenting the fact that he has to interview someone as seemingly unimportant as Katya instead of covering a breaking Washington, D.C. scandal, Pierre arrives at the interview completely unprepared and doesn’t even know the name of Katya’s latest film or the TV show she currently works on. The pair immediately despise each other and after fifteen minutes or so of bickering and Pierre being simply awful to Katya, Katya walks out of the interview (and Pierre calls her “Kuntya”). When Katya accidentally causes the taxi Pierre is in to crash (and Pierre nearly gets a concussion), Katya takes Pierre back to up nearby loft to tend to his wounds, and the real movie begins. In spite of the cruelty that Katya and Pierre inflict on each other, their passionate dislike for one another leads to an almost perverse attraction, and they spend the evening picking and picking at each others scars and scabs to get to the truth of what the other is really like.

Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller are the only characters in this film that are on screen for more than a minute so it’s no exaggeration to say that this film lives and dies based off of their performances. While I’m normally a Steve Buscemi fan (He’s one of the most innately weird and unpredictable actors in Hollywood along with Christopher Walken), I was actually slightly underwhelmed by his performance. There’s a difference between a nuanced and restrained performance and one that just seems bored and wooden. Steve Buscemi was trying too hard to keep his eccentricities and bizarreness in check and wound up overcompensating for it by sucking most of the life out of Pierre’s character. Thankfully then that Sienna Miller blew me away. It was obvious from the entire premise of the film that Katya wasn’t going to be nearly as vacuous as Pierre simply assumed she would be, but Sienna Miller really showed an intellectual ferocity as Katya that I hadn’t seen in any of her other performances. Unlike the fairly static performance of Buscemi, Miller had the opportunity to explore a wider palette of emotions and in the wake of the film’s ending (which I still don’t like but I guess it makes this more interesting), you see it all in an entirely different, second light. Her nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards was well deserved.

When this movie is exploring power dynamics between journalists and celebrities or deconstructing the way that we view those celebrities that constantly make the front page of tabloids, it’s a brilliant and witty film. The dialogue just pops off the screen and the movie often feels more like a two-person play than your conventional drama (which I’m perfectly fine with). Because the film makes Pierre such an unsympathetic character and Katya isn’t much more likeable, the film really takes the gloves off in showing these people, warts and all. And there’s that whole ironic commentary on how the film is attacking the voyeuristic fascination we have with the private lives of the famous while simultaneously giving us an intimate (or so we think) look into the life of this woman. However, and it’s hard to complain about a film’s ending without ruining it, I do feel like the movies ending came out of nowhere, and it didn’t seem to jibe with the feel of the rest of the film whatsoever. I was actually so disappointed in the way I thought it added this forced and unnatural sense of drama to the movie that it seriously dampened my enjoyment of the hour or so that proceeded it.

I have other films to watch so I’ll probably wrap up this review. Fellini’s 8 1/2 is the next movie on my Netflix Instant queue and I also have the sequel to Wings of Desire at home which I’m going to be watching next (after I watch an episode of Angel as part of my meta-structure for the blog which is movie, episode of TV series I’m reviewing, movie, repeat). Anyways, I might not have been crazy about this movie, but it was still very well-made, and if you’re a fan of psychological character studies and dialogue heavy cinema, you should definitely give Interview a try. I just recommend coming in with your expectations under control.

Final Score: B

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