Thursday 29 October 2020

Movie Review: The Interview (1998)

A taut drama, The Interview is an intense psychological duel but delivers less than it promises.

In Australia, down-and-out loner Edward Fleming (Hugo Weaving) is arrested by detectives Steele (Tony Martin) and Prior (Aaron Jeffrey). At the police station Steele questions Fleming about a car theft related to the disappearance of a man called Beecroft. Fleming admits to being on a trip near where the car was stolen, but denies any crime. Throughout the interview Prior subjects Fleming to verbal abuse and threats.

The Beecroft case is part of Steele's dogged quest to identify and apprehend an elusive serial killer. The detective is renowned for his effectiveness in breaking witnesses but also his rough tactics, and is unaware the Fleming sessions are being secretly filmed by ethics officers. Steele's boss Inspector Jackson (Paul Sonkkila) wants to give his star detective leeway, but grows increasingly concerned any evidence derived from the interrogation will be inadmissible due to intimidation. Fleming starts to grow in confidence, and throws a huge twist into his testimony.

The debut feature from Craig Monahan, who also co-wrote the script, The Interview expands the interrogation scene familiar from countless crime movies into the full-frame focus. The concept carries echoes from 1995's The Usual Suspects, but here the flashbacks and recreations are limited to snippets, most of the action unfolding in grim grey-green tones within the four walls of the interrogation room.

The energy and tension are derived from the battle of wits between Fleming as the accused and Steele as the accuser, and the narrative arc traces Fleming's mood from startled victim to sly storyteller. The twists are dynamic and Monahan plays his cards smoothly, but unfortunately and in retrospect, The Interview offers less than meets the eye. Steele's line of questioning is quite linear and ultimately flimsy, opening expansive opportunities for Fleming to seize the initiative.

The momentum is also choppy, Monahan choosing to frequently interrupt the interchanges between Fleming and Steele. A side plot involving nosey reporter Barry Walls (Michael Caton) poking around the police station generally gets in the way. 

The ultimately edgeless scheming takes nothing away from two excellent central performances. Hugo Weaving is a shifty ruffled mess hiding a mind racing to outmaneuver his opponents, while Tony Martin hints at ice in the veins of a cold and calculating detective. The hunter and the prey are well dressed for battle, but deserved sharper weaponry.

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