Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Interview

Alternate Title:  A Jolly Jaunt in the People's Paradise

One sentence synopsis:    A shallow television personality and his producer/best friend go to North Korea to interview Kim Jong Un.

A Note From Management:  We are currently attempting to determine what happened here and how this review came about. No offense is intended towards anyone with enough military hardware to make credible threats. We apologize for any inconvenience that may have been caused. Those responsible for sacking those previously responsible for incidents such as these have themselves been sacked.

Things Havoc liked:  I have never been a great fan of James Franco, nor of Seth Rogan, but in all fairness, last year's "This is the End" was riotously funny despite those two doing more or less exactly the things I have disliked them for in the past. As such, I had rather ambivalent feelings about The Interview, appearing as it did to contain everything I hated, yet required to take certain things on faith. It appeared for a while that my ambivalence on the part of this film was going to be rendered irrelevant, after North Korean hackers threatened Sony with assorted violent retributions if they did not pull the release of the film, but fortunately, since no major company would ever agree to a policy that cowardly, debased, and counter-productive, I was given the opportunity to witness what is surely, a part of history.

What can be said in the film's favor then? To begin with, like This is the End before it, The Interview is a film made with care. Scathing pillory is not something that rewards sloppiness, and as the previous film knew precisely what the sort of Hollywood excess they were skewering was. This film, similarly, has done its homework, down to details such as the composition of flower bundles handed out to foreign dignitaries on the tarmac of Pyongyang, the songs sung by the obligatory identically-dressed masses of schoolchildren drafted for such occasions, and the size and scale of the rawhide whips used to beat the political prisoners in North Korea's mountain prison camps (the lowland ones have a different climate, different barometric pressure, and consequently, different loyalty-enforcement instruments). Particular praise should go to Randall Park, whom I've not seen before, but who here has the unenviable task of portraying the Dear Leader Kim Jeong Un. Park's portrayal is masterful, particularly the first interview, where he smilingly and charmingly disarms our bumbling heroes with imported liquor and classical music as his staff hurriedly cover up the bodies of the young women he raped to death that morning (I'm told this actually happened during a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador last year, forcing the embarrassed diplomat to spend fifteen minutes appreciatively admiring the floral patterns on the carpet to avoid looking up). In the second interview, a more intentionally hurried affair wherein the journalists surprise Kim in the middle of one of his infamous (and CIA-attested) goat-orgies along with North Korea's senior military staff, Park manages to deliver a chillingly calm and rational defense of his regime's policies despite the ball-gag, and even contrives to order his harem girls to continue administering the electric shocks to his genitals, all without losing his temper or raising his voice. It's a performance that could not have been any easier to produce than anything Christian Bale has ever done, and credit must be paid to Park for his masterful display of the craft.

And yet the film, to my surprise, does not restrict itself to skewering the admittedly low-hanging fruit of North Korea's ludicrous regime. Rogan and Franco, Hollywood insiders though they are, simply cannot restrict themselves from dealing harshly with the materialistic world around them. Guy Pierce, playing Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton, turns in a role I regard as his best (admittedly not a particularly high bar), having gained over two hundred pounds for the role and agreeing to have what is claimed to be pig feces (I hope, for his sake, it was merely chocolate) smeared over his face and mouth six or seven times throughout the runtime. Co-chairman Amy Pascal (played by Jennifer Garner, at last having found a role I like) is meanwhile depicted as pouring over the backlog of Sony's film library with a microscope looking for anything that might insult someone. The scene where she dances drunkenly around a bonfire consuming the master tapes of Casablanca is a standout bit of work from an actress I had long suspected had no actual talent within her. But the pick of the lot has got to be Vincent D'onofrio, who is a changed man playing Sony's President Doug Belgrad. Sweating grotesquely, D'onofrio here lets himself look far worse than anything that ever happened in Men in Black, fauning over everyone nearby with a sleazy, mincing mien that turns the stomach and the ear. And yet this is plainly the intended-for effect, as director Evan Goldberg combs the depths of depravity to portray this man in the most hideous, grotesque manner possible. I was not prepared for the graphic, hardcore snuff-and-sex scene which D'onofrio subjects himself to near the end of the film, and while I intellectually know that the flames of the butaine lighters used to torture the smuggled children were all CGI or other movie fakery, I have to report that the sequence is incredibly disturbing to watch, enough to put one off Sony films for a good long while.

Things Havoc disliked:  Not everything can be perfect of course, not with a subject matter like North Korea, the most secretive regime on the face of the planet. For example, I could not help but notice in the aforementioned goat orgy sequence that the goats in question were clearly Thuringians, something I can probably forgive given that the Dear Leader's absolute proclivity towards the similarly-appearing Black Zhongwei goats is known only to a few scholars of obscure zoophilias. Similarly, the rate of fire of the Chinese type-81 Squad Machine gun is approximately 700 rounds per minute, too slow for a trio of the guns to kill literally every one of the three or four thousand political prisoners we see lined up for the mass sacrifices intended to accompany Kim's birthday celebrations in less than a minute of work, even with pinpoint accuracy. As to the sequence wherein the Sony board of directors lines up to perform acts of hardcore felatio on Kim's senior ministers, I can only report that I am gratified that no crude gay jokes were hurled their way during the course of the scene, as such homophobic remarks have become truly passe in the modern culture of Hollywood.

Otherwise, the only criticism I can level at the film is really a simple lack of ambition. I know this seems a strange thing to throw at a movie produced by Seth Rogan of all people, someone known for thoughtless comedies like The Neighbors or Seth and Miri Make a Porno, but the base fact is that after the first half hour of the movie and its shameless expose of the regime and the film industry's sins, I did expect to see more. A nod towards the North Korean policy of generational guilt would have been nice. While the seven-year old girl we see Kim torture to death with barbed wire is hinted at having been the victim of such a policy, something a bit more explicitly called out would have not gone awry. Similarly, the all-too-brief sequences of mass starvation are undercut by the crude comedy surrounding it, leading to the uncomfortable feeling that we are intended to laugh at the victims of this regime instead of pity them.

Final Thoughts:  That said, I doubt seriously that was the intention, as nobody capable of making a movie this daring, this fearless, and this filled with scathing critique is capable of actually harboring such infantile and awful concepts. One might from there accuse the filmmakers of themselves becoming mouthpieces of one of the most evil regimes on the planet, chilling the expression of free speech for decades to come, and actively seeking to oppress and persecute anyone who dares rock the boat against a manifest evil such as North Korea. Such a claim would be laughable however, as Sony has proven themselves the stalwart champions of free speech and common decency, persisting in calling a spade a spade no matter who tries to intimidate them, letting all audiences see the movie that, while no masterpiece, is a fine reminder of the fact that in a free country, we have the right to be stupid when we wish to.

My hat is off to you, Sony. You have redeemed my faith in the medium of film.


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