Hanging out with horrible people

By Ryan Pike

The improvisation section of most high school drama classes typically include a concept known as “raising the stakes.” It’s sometimes taught as a game, where two actors improvise increasingly complex scenarios that they get their counterpart involved in. When one of the players cannot come up with anything to raise the stakes, the scene ends. In screenwriting, raising the stakes is a way of building a scene or a film from something superficial into something much more intricate. Interview, the first film written and directed by actor Steve Buscemi, is an interesting look at the concept.

A remake of a 2003 film directed by Theo van Gogh, Intervew is an 84-minute conversation between journalist Pierre Peters (Steve Buscemi) and actress Katya (Sienna Miller). Once a hotshot political journalist, Peters is now relegated to interviewing the vapid starlet, who’s known more for who she sleeps with than for her acting. The duo sits around and chats, first in a restaurant and later in Katya’s stylish loft.

There are two fundamental problems with Interview: the characters and the script’s pacing. The concept itself is fundamentally sound: a journalist that would rather be somewhere else chats up an actress who’d rather not be interviewed. The result is a film that’s 84 minutes of people talking, which sometimes isn’t so bad. Richard Linklater made a pair of films–Before Sunrise and Before Sunset–that are nothing but two people walking around talking for 90 minutes. It helps, though, that Linklater had likable characters to work with. The two people that audiences are asked to spend time with in Interview are despicable. Peters is a manipulative liar and Katya is seemingly bipolar, alternating between wanting to sleep with Peters or stab him. It’s difficult to tell whether the nature of the characters is in the script or if the actors chose to interpret things that way.

Then there’s the pacing. Ignoring the unlikable characters, the film’s scenes are crafted in a tremendously illogical way. Here’s an example: Pierre and Katya are in her apartment. He’s trying to finish the interview and they’re making small talk about her career choices. Somehow the conversation turns to fishnet stockings and high heels and then all of a sudden Katya gets angry, something that recurs throughout the film. Why? No reason is ever given for her outbursts.

The dynamics between the characters also frequently change for no logical reason. Pierre and Katya go from distant to flirtatious to adversarial to friendly to angry and back and forth with no triggers whatsoever. The frequent changes in their relationships come across like a high school drama teacher is shouting instructions at the actors. “You’re friends! You’re lovers! You’re strangers! You’re enemies!” It’s unclear whether this is the fault of the original Danish screenplay, Buscemi’s adaptation of it or his direction, but it results in Interview being an often frustrating experience.

For many years, Steve Buscemi has proven himself to be a compelling, versatile actor. Thus far, however, his efforts behind the screen haven’t proven to be as fruitful. Despite an interesting premise and a pair of actors seemingly up to the task, Interview is full of unlikable characters in illogical situations. Anyone with an urge to see two people talking for 90 minutes should probably just watch Before Sunrise instead, or find someone really interesting.