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'Interview, The'

Suspicion and suspense: 'The Interview' builds mystery with subtle intensity

Friday, July 07, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Strip all the blue smoke and mirrors from "The Usual Suspects" and you might end up with something like "The Interview," an Australian psychological thriller now at the Harris Theater.

'The Interview'

RATING: Not rated; contains vulgar language and physical violence.

STARRING: Hugo Weaving, Tony Martin.

DIRECTOR: Craig Monahan.

CRITIC'S CALL: 3 stars.


Granted, those who love "The Usual Suspects" count its labyrinthine plot twists and cinematic sleight of hand as integral elements of the film's appeal. "The Interview" takes a seemingly straightforward, more low-key approach. But it keeps you guessing every bit as much as its more flamboyant predecessor.

It begins with a man asleep in a chair in a nondescript apartment. Next thing we know, the police are breaking down his door and ripping the place apart. They won't tell him what they want and they take him downtown for questioning. They lock him in an interview room and let him stew until, finally, a detective begins asking him questions that don't reveal much about the nature of his inquiry.

So how do we get from Kafka to Keyser Soze? Director Craig Monahan, who co-wrote the film with his police technical adviser, Gordon Davie, establishes an ominous atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion that turns out to be well-founded.

The camera scans slowly through various closed rooms, as if looking for evidence. It follows cords and wires attached to microphones and cameras designed to record everything that happens. Gargoyles literally decorate the interview room. The characters sometimes are filmed moving in slow motion, as if they were already condemned and starting their way down the green mile to their doom.

The police are searching for a heinous criminal but, in the words of detective John Steele (Australian actor Tony Martin), certain people in the department have their own personal agendas.

Is Eddie Fleming (Hugo Weaving) their man? He gets our sympathies at the start, thanks to the heavyhanded tactics of the police and the quaking fear in his voice as he tries to figure out what they're after. Who among us hasn't felt apprehensive upon seeing a police car in our rear-view mirror? Imagine being in this poor soul's shoes.

After a while, though, we begin to wonder whether the cops might be on to something. Our sympathy begins to shift as Steele and his hot-headed partner Wayne Prior (Aaron Jeffery) are themselves put on the defensive.

We may be witnessing either a miscarriage or a travesty of justice -- and the smile on the face of the character in the last shot may make us think of Keyser Soze revealing himself at the end of "The Usual Suspects." But "The Interview" has enough twists of its own that, by this point, nothing seems conclusive -- not a smile, a taped statement or what we see with our own eyes.

The movie hinges on director Monahan's atmospherics and on the claustrophobic interview scenes, with Fleming and Steele locked in a tense cat-and-mouse game. But which is the feline and which the rodent?

Weaving, who played the villainous Mr. Smith in "The Matrix," here plays a character who is considerably more unkempt. But his performance is razor-sharp. Certain motivations are not necessarily convincing, but Weaving makes us believe. Martin lives up to his character's name -- he's shaped a bit like a bullet and his approach is equally blunt, although not without guile.

"The Interview" reminds us once again that the dynamic between desperate men can pack just as much power as a screenful of special effects.

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