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Steve Buscemi is one of the hardest-working actors in America. He's had more than 100 roles in film and television during the last two decades, mostly supporting, and mostly, like his memorably slimy turns in Fargo and The Sopranos, playing sleazeballs. But he has marvelous range and is most impressive in leads. I will long remember his frustrated alcoholic in his own (he also wrote and directed) Trees Lounge and his lonely record collector in Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World. Currently, Buscemi is starring in another of his own vehicles, Interview, and, as expected, he's terrific.

Interview was originally made in Dutch by director Theo van Gogh in 2003. Van Gogh was planning an American version with Buscemi in the lead but Van Gogh was murdered by an Islamist terrorist in 2004. Buscemi subsequently took the project over and worked with original screenwriter Theodor Holman to produce an American script. The story involves Buscemi as fading freelance journalist Pierre Peders, who lands an assignment to interview a starlet named Katya (Sienna Miller) for a national newsweekly. Pierre needs the work, but at the same time he thinks it's beneath him. He considers himself a political reporter and would much rather be in Washington covering a breaking scandal in the White House.

Pierre and Katya arrange to meet at a New York restaurant, and she shows up an hour late and immediately cajoles the maitre d' into moving them to a different table. Her manipulativeness, insincerity and selfishness are palpable, and Pierre doesn't bother to conceal his contempt. Upon meeting her, we think that Katya is supposed to represent someone like Paris Hilton, less an actual actress than a beautiful blonde who has flaunted her sexuality to achieve a form of celebrity that is self-sustaining. Katya's only movie roles have been in slasher flicks, and though her current TV show sounds like Sex and the City, we are led to believe that its common denominator is way lower than that. Katya's thirst for attention has led her to openly reveal first her breast implants and then their removal as a way of sustaining chatter about her on Entertainment Tonight and its ilk.

Pierre knows little of this and cares about none of it. He hasn't done any research on Katya's career, hasn't seen any of her movies and has barely bothered to scan her resume. When his first questions proceed from ignorance and drip with condescension, she becomes incensed, cuts the interview off and flounces from the restaurant into the flash and babble of a pack of paparazzi waiting for her outside. Here is the first moment we get an inkling that Katya may be something more than a stereotypical dumb blonde. She plays the photographers like an orchestra director. They aren't so much her heckling tormentors as her puppets.

Then, contrived circumstances bring Pierre and Katya back into contact. There's an unlikely accident and a minor injury, and Katya is suddenly insisting that Pierre accompany her back to her apartment so she can tend to a nasty bump on his head. Is there some decency in her after all? Or has she decided there might be a way to salvage a satisfying story from Pierre? Whatever, the rest of the film takes place in Katya's plush loft as the two characters share drinks and secrets.

Confined as it is to this one set, Interview has the intimacy and the artificiality of a stage play. Pierre and Katya talk seriously, flirt and argue. They are alike in many ways. Both are ambitious, and both are ruthless. Both are also unhappy and dissatisfied with the current state of their careers. Pierre recognizes that he's slipping but can't figure out how to climb back to where he thinks he belongs. Katya can't figure out how to get where she's never gone. She's not Paris Hilton; she's Marilyn Monroe. She's traded on her looks and it's worked, but deep down she's as disgusted as Pierre with her sexpot roles.

The series of revelations that Katya makes about herself and, in turn, elicits from Pierre proceed from an emotional roller coaster that never proves entirely convincing. This is a script problem, though, and one of transition, rather than any defect in the acting. Katya is sequentially cold, haughty, thoughtful, warm, seductive, mean, vulnerable and calculating, and Miller makes each of these phases connect as a complex portrait of an intelligent woman determined to bend life to her will. We just can't quite keep up with the triggers for her mood swings and never believe we'd actually see all these sides of her personality in a single night.

Nonetheless, the give and take here is continually surprising and the psychological action is fueled with narratively satisfying reversals even as the whole indicts ambition as both narcotic and toxic. The underlying feel of artifice is never shaken, but these two superb actors are a pleasure to watch.

click to enlarge In Interview, Pierre (Steve Buscemi) and Katya (Sienna Miller) - are stuck in their careers as much as they are stuck with - each other for a weekend. - 2007 SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
  • 2007 Sony Pictures Classics
  • In Interview, Pierre (Steve Buscemi) and Katya (Sienna Miller) are stuck in their careers as much as they are stuck with each other for a weekend.
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