Buscemi's 'Interview,' Fantastically Revealing

Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller in 'Interview'

hide captionSteve Buscemi and Sienna Miller, squaring off and circling different truths in Interview.

Sony Pictures Classics

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Interview is an American remake of a film by Theo van Gogh, the outspoken Dutch director who was murdered in 2004 by an Islamic extremist. It's not politically incendiary, but it's dramatically charged. It's a psychological duel to the death.

Steve Buscemi plays Pierre Peders, a war correspondent stuck doing puff pieces on celebrities; Sienna Miller is Katya, the gorgeous prime-time soap goddess and horror-film actress he's assigned to talk to. She shows up very late to the trendy restaurant, feigning ordinariness but radiating entitlement. He wears his contempt like a boutonniere.

Cynical journalist meets star with fortress-like defenses in sterile setting: That's most celebrity magazine interviews. But this one goes from awkward to incredulous to hostile. She stomps out. So does he. And then, through a series of contrivances, Pierre and Katya end up in her spacious loft, where the cat and mouse games really begin.

I've seen a lot of two-character psychodramas, in the theater and on screen, and even the good ones can be a slog. But Interview — which is co-written and directed by Buscemi — is riveting as drama and as cinema. The movie made me remember a playwrighting seminar I took where we spent weeks breaking down one masterpiece, Ibsen's Rosmersholm, into dramatic "beats": small units of dialogue that end in sudden reversals or shifts in focus. The beats are the heartbeats of a scene, and Buscemi understands them organically.

He chooses, like Van Gogh, to shoot with three cameras, each coming in close so that the audience is inside the characters' relentless struggle for control — of the space, the rhythms, the flow of information, true and false.

Because Interview begins with Pierre, because we know he has been through wars and carries shrapnel scars, because we see the overprivileged Katya through his eyes, we're on his side for much of the film. But as he grows more drunk and more devious — when he peeks at her private e-mails — our sympathies turn. Maybe Katya isn't so vapid. Maybe her counteroffenses — the way she exploits her beauty and celebrity — are a mark of sanity.

It's a little disappointing when Interview comes to a melodramatic head — when there has to be a resolution, a hero and a villain, a winner and a loser. The movie is more tantalizing when it's amorphous, when our sympathies teeter back and forth between these two flawed people. But Buscemi's grip never slackens. As an actor, he evinces a thick-lipped, clammy distaste that's somehow magnetic — he's like a hip ghoul. And as a director, he gives Sienna Miller a dream showcase.

I wonder if Miller came up short as Warhol darling Edie Sedgwick in the recent biopic Factory Girl because, no matter how hard she tried and how terrific she was in the big moments, she couldn't be a blank, a nonactress. She's a stupendous actress. Her Katya is lazy but wily, and she's increasingly turned on by the games she keeps insisting she doesn't want to play. Interview is a danse macabre in which she's always on point.

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