Should I Watch..? The Interview
What's the big deal?
The Interview is a political satire film released in 2014 and is the second film co-directed by Evan Goldberg and star Seth Rogen. It concerns two American journalists who are invited to the secretive land of North Korea by its leader Kim Jong-Un to give an interview. The film unintentionally sparked a major international incident between the US and North Korea, fuelled by hackers leaking sensitive information from Sony Pictures and the North Korean regime threatening people and cinemas who dared to show it with stern and merciless retaliation. After intitially dropping the release from its schedules, pressure from the public and political figures forced Columbia to release the movie online via On Demand services and in a select number of cinemas. So far, North Korea's aforementioned retaliation has yet to occur...
What's it about?
Air-headed showbiz reporter Dave Skylark and his long-suffering producer Aaron Rapaport are celebrating their 1000th show, covering the showbiz stories you might have missed such as Eminem announcing he's in fact gay and Rob Lowe's unsightly baldness. But Aaron wants more - he resents not being a serious journalist and wishes to cover real news stories. Then out of the blue, he's gets the answer to his prayers - the secretive leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, is a massive fan of Skylark's and wishes to conduct an exclusive interview with him for the show. With Skylark on-board, they agree to travel to North Korea for the story of their lives.
However, the CIA get wind of their plans and send Agent Lacey over to Aaron's place and initiates a top-secret plan to assassinate Kim Jong-un with the help of a transdermal strip laced with ricin. Aware of what's at stake, the hapless pair travel to North Korea where Dave becomes best buddies with Kim, Aaron falls for Kim's spokeswoman, Sook-yin Park and the plan to kill Kim rapidly falls apart.
President Kim Jong-Un
CIA Agent Lacey
Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Dan Sterling *
Release Date (UK)
6th February 2015
What's to like?
At times, The Interview is actually a very funny film despite the usual amounts of crudeness and swearing Rogen seems to thrive upon in his movies. It works well as a satire, sending up both North Korea's legendarily paranoid regime as well as the media's obsession for viewers instead of the truth. For me, the film's opening is actually the best bit as Eminem himself appears on Skylark Tonight and casually confirms his homosexuality, sending the producers into meltdown at their unexpected scoop. Thereafter, it descends into standard idiot-spy territory albeit apparently confirming every prejudice we may have against the rulers of North Korea. And while Rogen and Franco have fun as the hapless heroes way out of their league, by far the best performance was by Park as Kim. He introduces many aspects of Kim's character - public and private - which actually make Kim the most believable character in the film.
The other surprising thing about the film is how juicy it gets when the action kicks off. Bloody headshots and a chase between a tank and a helicopter aren't what you expect in a comedy but given that The Interview is essentially a parody, perhaps it might not be that surprising. I haven't been this put off by violence since the Rambo reboot in 2008. I suspect that Rogen might have had Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Team America: World Police in their sights - nothing wrong with that except that movie is much funnier. But it feels more cartoony here somehow, more like Tropic Thunder than anything.
- Due to the infamous hacking of Sony, this film's budget was released. It cost a total of $44 million to make, of which $74'000 was to cover the cost of two tigers and their handlers and $250 was for "a table of weed, coke, pills and panties" - although only $241 was actually spent on that.
- The opening logo is Columbia's logo from the 1960's, not their current logo.
- The film is not the first to cover the subject of an assassination of a then-current leader. In 1941, Fritz Lang made a film called Man Hunt where Walter Pidgeon played a hunter who attempts to assassinate then-German leader Adolf Hitler.
What's not to like?
And speaking of Tropic Thunder, the number one lesson learnt from that film was the danger of a film or star going 'full-retard' - a lesson Franco ignores as his portrayal of Skylark goes way over the top. And in truth, that's part of the reason the film fails. It's a little toothless as a political satire, resorting instead to Franco's ignorant imbecile and Rogen shoving phallic-shaped pieces of metal somewhere unpleasant for the mission. Instead of hoping they succeed, you fear for them ever escaping because unguided, they'd be dogmeat within a week. If the film was trying to topple Team America: World Police as king of the satires then it misses the mark by quite a bit - it's nowhere near as clever, funny or original as that film is, despite it featuring a cast of traditional wooden puppets instead of actors.
For all the provocation it has brought Columbia and Sony Pictures, The Interview could at least have the good grace to make some interesting points as well as make us laugh. Instead, all it did was ramp up publicity for a sub-standard product and I find that worrying. You want the film to be more than some clumsy rhetoric, pointing out the obvious flaws in a flawed regime before running away for a fart gag. It reminds me of a comedian telling jokes about disabled people before looking up and seeing the front row of his audience in wheelchairs. Very quickly, the jokes dry up and aren't as funny any more.
Should I watch it?
Unless controversial low-brow comedy is your thing then my personal opinion is not to bother with The Interview which is dumb fun but really not worth the admission and certainly not worth risking nuclear retaliation for. For all its claims to be a biting political satire, it actually couldn't be further from the truth. Granted, there are flashes of inspiration in there but they are few and far between and frankly, I wanted more from it than I got. If anyone from South Korea is thinking of shipping copies of this into the North then make sure you don't include a return address, yeah?
Great For: freedom of speech, potheads
Not So Great For: international relations, proper satire, Sony's cyber security
What else should I watch?
Without question, Team America: World Police is the best American satire I've seen for many years as it lampoons the War on Terror, action movies, US ignorance of foreign affairs, the Bush regime and much more. Brilliantly written and damn-funny to boot, this is the film The Interview wants to be.
However, if you're looking for something a bit more cerebral, I suggest In The Loop which is more about the politics behind the scenes and government's interaction with the press. There also isn't a single explosion to be found anywhere unless you count Peter Capaldi's fantastic use of colourful language, something I wish he'd carried over into his role as TV's Doctor Who.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox