March 27, 2015
Hugo Weaving is blisteringly good in one of his best but most underseen roles, a man hauled into the cop shop for crimes he may or may not have committed
Like any national cinema, the history of Australian film is littered with terrific works that for one reason or another never connected with a wide (or even cult) audience. Near the top of the “greatest Aussie films you’ve probably never heard of” canon is the 1998 feature of director Craig Monahan: a superb cat-and-mouse thriller between a did-he-or-didn’t-he suspect (Hugo Weaving) and an alpha-male detective (Tony Martin).
The Interview is Australia’s answer to The Usual Suspects, a twisty mystery built around a protracted conversation and an elusive protagonist who is integral in both driving and complicating the narrative. In a career marked by jaw-dropping performances, this film features one of the very best (and most criminally underseen) roles from Hugo Weaving, who is blisteringly good as a bewildered man hauled into the cop shop for crimes he may or may not have committed.
Just as the film appears to have settled into an exploration of whether means justify ends in the context of a rough-as-guts cop who gets results, Monahan and Gordon Davie’s screenplay curls into something much more interesting and psychologically evasive.
Monahan’s direction is deeply atmospheric from the get-go. The Interview’s first shot is a slow zoom out of a fish bowl on top of a pile of newspapers stacked in front of a white lace curtain blowing in the breeze. The next crawls into the physical space of the out-of-work schlep Eddie Fleming (Weaving) who is slumbering on an armchair as a clock tick tick ticks next to him.
The scene moves into the hallway where undercover police bust the door down and push a gasping, panting Fleming to the ground. Like a little kid in schoolyard, he begs them not to hurt him; says they can ask anything they want right here. Detective Sergeant John Steele (Martin) responds: “It’s a bit more complicated than that, Mr Fleming.”
Inside the police station begins the interview that forms the crux of the film. Like the structure of a single setting play, everything else branches off it – from supporting characters to sideplots involving the scrutiny of internal police procedures and hints of wider corruption. Monahan lulls us into these strange goings on through a stream of dialogue between accused and accuser, in which our allegiances and sympathies shift.
Fleming explains he was retrenched and put on the dole. He lost his house, his job and his wife. Steele remarks that he has a brother-in-law in the same situation, to which Fleming responds: “But he’s not sitting in a police station talking to the likes of you.”
It would risk revealing the aces up Monahan’s sleeve’s to divulge the exact nature of their conversation and the ramifications that grow from it – suffice to say that car theft, a missing person and a subject much more sinister are canvassed. Fleming goes from not wanting to say anything to gabbing about all sorts of things.
Why does he decide to talk? Who is schooling who? Which person has the upper hand? Around the halfway point there’s a big twist, and it’s not the only one.
Aaron Jeffery as the co-investigator appears to be motivated by the desire to present himself as “bad cop” as quickly and stereotypically as possible. His presence is a little too much; a knuckle sandwich of caricature. Michael Caton also has a small role as a snoopy reporter on the sidelines.
But the centrepiece dynamic exists between Martin and Weaving. Martin, who appeared in Monahan’s third film, Healing, in 2014, is great as a knockabout cop with an axe to grind. Weaving is alternately flustered and calm, confused and calculating, angry and cool: the perfect depiction of someone who could be innocent, could be guilty. This elaborate feat of emotional smoke and mirrors is perfectly tuned to Monahan’s shape-shifting writing and direction.