First-rate performances from Hugo Weaving and Tony Martin distinguish “The Interview,” a taut, consistently intelligent drama about the grilling of a murder suspect by a tenacious, though flawed, law officer. Basically a three-hander, debut film from director Craig Monahan is a rich cinematic experience despite its claustrophobic settings. Pic had a generally enthusiastic launch as the opening night attraction of the Melbourne Film Festival, and is about to embark on the international fest circuit. It should perform solidly in arthouses in Australia and, if carefully handled, in other key territories.
Viewers with long memories may compare Monahan’s film to a trio of other famous examples of the police-interview subgenre – Robert Siodmak’s Berlin-made “Preliminary Investigation” (1931), French director Claude Miller’s “Garde a vue” (1983) and Giuseppe Tornatore’s “A Pure Formality” (1994). Like those thrillers, “The Interview” is confined in scope and marked by fluid direction and camerawork, and its seemingly cut-and-dried case develops in unexpected ways.
Weaving plays Eddie Fleming, an apparently ordinary, nondescript man who is rudely awakened early one morning when armed police smash into his one-room apartment. The unemployed Fleming is a sad case: He’s lost his wife, home and self-respect, and he lives in near poverty. Carted off to the police station, he’s disoriented and confused, and one is encouraged to empathize with his plight in what seems to be a clear case of police overkill.
Fleming is quizzed by the wily, tenacious detective Steele (Martin) and his younger, more pugnacious assistant, detective Prior (Aaron Jeffery.) The investigation seems to be about a stolen car and forged documents, hardly serious enough to warrant the way poor Fleming is being treated. But gradually it’s revealed that the case is, indeed, a serious one. The owner of the stolen car is missing, and he’s not the only one – the police are investigating the activities of a serial killer.
As the formal interview, punctuated occasionally by off-the-record discussions, proceeds, it gradually becomes clear that the investigators themselves are under investigation. They’re making a record of the interview on audiotape, but they’re secretly being videotaped by a police internal affairs unit. Steele, it seems, has a bad reputation, and there are those in his department out to get him – among them, perhaps, his superior officer, detective Jackson (Paul Sonkkila.)
Monahan and his co-writer, Gordon Davie, cleverly create a Kafkaesque atmosphere in which questionable authority figures may be persecuting a perfectly innocent man. On the other hand, these cops may just be trying to do their job in the most difficult circumstances, attempting to extract a confession from a cunning and dangerous killer. Davie, who also acted as technical adviser on the film, is a former police officer who worked for 16 years with the Victorian Crime Squad.
Though most of the film is set in the drab interview room, cinematographer Simon Duggan pulls out all the stops to make “The Interview” a potent visual experience. Occasional flashbacks are hardly necessary, but do succeed in lightening the claustrophobic mood at key intervals.
As the accused man, Weaving gives an extremely subtle performance, and keeps the audience guessing until quite late in the day about Fleming’s real agenda. Martin is equally good as the cop who cuts too many corners in his dogged determination to bring the case to a conclusion. Jeffery is fine, too, as Steele’s less sophisticated partner.
David Hirschfelder’s brooding score is a major asset for this modest but riveting drama in which the tension keeps bubbling right up to the last, chilling image. Richard Bell’s fine production design and Suresh Ayyar’s taut editing augment this quality production.