Starting off in a promisingly gloomy, Kafka-via-David Fincher mode, first-time director Craig Monahan’s cop thriller, The Interview, ends up stumbling over its preoccupation with procedural verisimilitude and dreary departmental squabbling. Monahan sacrifices a potentially intriguing, if not stunningly original, setup (a tightly wound detective charms, seduces, and cajoles a confession from a deceptively placid suspect) in favor of a tiresome law-and-order screed.
Set almost entirely in a dingy Melbourne police station, The Interview works best during the cat-and-mouse exchange between its two leads. Jobless sad sack and ostensible car thief Edward Fleming (Hugo Weaving, the aggressively antiseptic Agent Smith in The Matrix) and outwardly calm Sergeant John Steele (Tony Martin), who has Fleming in mind for more horrific crimes, square off for a quietly riveting battle of wits. These sharply observed scenes make up for the film’s static setting, until the focus inexplicably shifts to Steele’s troubles with a police ethics committee over alleged goon-squad tactics. The tenuous link between his and Fleming’s culpability is uninspired, and when Fleming is released on a trumped-up technicality, The Interview flirts dangerously with a quasi-Death Wish mentality.
When it works, The Interview is effective in the style of television’s late, great Homicide: Life on the Street, with its tense, is-he-or-isn’t-he byplay and moral fuzziness. That’s hardly faint praise, but Monahan also reveals a preference for the kind of downtrodden supercop twaddle that drives the execrable NYPD Blue. The two extremes never quite meld.