Beauty and the Journalist—But Who’s the Real Beast?

sarris interview2h Beauty and the Journalist—But Who’s the Real Beast?INTERVIEW
Running Time 83 minutes
Written by Steve Buscemi and David Shechter
Directed by Steve Buscemi
Starring Steve Buscemi, Sienna Miller

Steve Buscemi’s Interview, from a screenplay by David Shechter and Mr. Buscemi, is a remake of the late Dutch director Theodor van Gogh’s film, from a screenplay by Theo Holman. Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic extremist, and Mr. Buscemi has dedicated the remake simply to “Theo,” though there is no apparent connection between the subject of the film and the motivation for the slaying. That is, unless sleazy celebrity journalism can be blamed for all the world’s ills—and perhaps it should be.

Mr. Buscemi plays Pierre Peders, the journalist in question, and Sienna Miller plays the questionable celebrity, Katya, a mini-sensation in both second-rate horror flicks and an apparent rip-off of Sex and the City. The interview gets off to a stormy start with Pierre’s fuming over waiting an hour for Katya to show up for the restaurant interview, and Katya becoming immediately offended by Pierre’s obvious lack of interest in her career; he casually admits that he has never seen any of her movies, much less her TV series. With still about 80 minutes to go in the movie, it is hard to see at this point how this spectacle of a mutual non-admiration society can be sustained to the end credits.

And, indeed, it does require a spectacularly contrived piece of night-time street slapstick with paparazzi and an amorously distracted cab driver to push Katya and Pierre together up to her spacious industrial loft apartment where the rest of this free-form interview is spread out for maximum physical extension and periodic separation. One can question this maneuver’s transparent theatricality or, as I prefer, hail it as a cinematic tour de force. Either way, Mr. Buscemi and Ms. Miller prove that they are fully up to the task of carrying a whole movie on their shoulders without any help from the other characters, limited for the most part to unheard voices on the other ends of cellphone conversations.

Indeed, Katya and Pierre are singularly original as bickering antagonists because they never soften up, even at the very end, or go beyond a single defiantly toxic kiss to provide the audience with any banal sexual payoff. In fact, the capacity of the two battling protagonists for breathtaking betrayals of each other lends a lasting chill to the proceedings. Nonetheless, both Katya and Pierre are never lacking in subtle forms of charm. This is not surprising with Mr. Buscemi, who has become something of a movie legend for his almost total lack of narcissism. This is made evident by a story he tells about the time he was cast as a grotesque villain and asked the director if he should do anything to alter his appearance, only to be told, in effect, to just be himself.

Ms. Miller, on the other hand, is a startling revelation, at least to this reviewer, who never expected from her such a full-bodied performance of wit, panache and marvelously shifting moods and modulations. In this period, particularly, when so few films avail themselves of the infinite variety of woman at all ages, Ms. Miller’s Katya is a bright beacon of intelligence and unpredictability.

Some reviews have criticized Mr. Buscemi and Mr. Shechter for slavishly following the nomenclature of the Dutch original with the lead characters’ names of Katya and Pierre Peders. In other respects, however, the American script has smoothly adapted itself to the contemporary national media scene with vague references to the mess in Washington and Pierre’s missed presidential press conference, not to mention Pierre’s shame at having been discovered by his magazine editor in the practice of inventing his “sources,” in the manner of some notorious journalists of not so long ago. Katya, by contrast, for all of her supposedly scandalous bedroom escapades, emerges in Ms. Miller’s lucid characterization as a welcome relief from Paris Hilton’s Stone Age media antics.