The Interview (2015)

The InterviewDave Skylark (James Franco) and Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) are a team, and together they have produced 1,000 episodes of the former’s talk show, Skylark Tonight. While Dave is content covering the latest celebrity scandals, however, Aaron dreams of breaking actual news. Therefore, when they learn that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a superfan of the show, they conspire to land one of the most important interviews in broadcast history. Naturally, their exploits do not go unnoticed by the CIA, and the pair are soon approached by Agent Lacy (Lizzy Caplan) who asks that they ‘take-out’ their interviewee while they’re there — using a time-delayed, Risin-laced transdermal strip and a firm handshake.

It is joked during Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s new movie The Interview that Dave and Aaron’s televised encounter with Kim Jong-un is going to be the most important since ‘Frosty Nixon’, and that one day Ron Howard might make a movie out of it. It’s a good gag, but while said in jest it’s not as absurd as the duo make it sound — at least not anymore. Since it was filmed, The Interview has gone from innocent fun to international incident as North Korea has done everything in its power to block the film’s release — from hacking the studio responsible to threatening any cinemas planning to screen the movie. It was eventually released, but not before being temporarily pulled by Sony, and for a moment there it genuinely seemed as though audiences would never know what all of the fuss was about.

Some would have you believe that the answer is not a great deal; that had it not been for the controversy it courted The Interview would have already been long forgotten. The film has obviously benefitted from near-unprecedented publicity — trailed not as the comedy of the year but the film that almost ended freedom of speech as we know it, it has gone on to become Sony’s biggest digital release of all time, despite calls by some to boycott the studio — but nobody’s being lured in on an empty promise. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but The Interview is not a movie that should be ignored. Not only is it Rogen and Goldberg’s best collaboration yet — Rogen and Franco too — but the most astute and accessible satirical action comedy since Team America: World Police, with which it shares a similar target, or perhaps even South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.

Imagining Kim Jong-un as a closet Yankophile who loves nothing more than to sip margaritas and lip-sync to Katy Perry, the film is relentless in its ridicule of a man wrongly revered by many as a god. The story — which they conceived alongside screenwriter Dan Sterling — balances silliness with surprising smarts, and though irreverent the script is neither patronising or reductive; it deals in broad strokes but never truly crosses the line(s). Kim Jong-Un might be left smarting come film’s end but it’s unlikely that anyone else will suffer any real offence, something that immediately distinguishes The Interview from anything the cast and crew has produced under the Judd Apatow banner. If anything, The Interview is actually quite sweet-natured, even inviting the dictator himself (bravely portrayed by Park) to join in the fun. Hitler didn’t even get to speak in Inglourious Basterds.

Franco and Rogen are on rare form as Dave and Aaron, the former breaking character as a pretentious, self-perpetuating polymath and the latter regaining levels of likeability unseen since 50/50. They’re each gifted with some truly stunning one-liners, but it’s their easy chemistry that really sells their scenes together — their onscreen bromance now so overt that they’ve all but dropped the b. Standout set-pieces include an early interview with Eminem, their hungover introduction to Agent Lacy and a run-in with a tiger in a clearing outside their residence in Pyongyang. These individual gags might seem silly and typically unsophisticated but they belie some pretty striking satire, including sideswipes at media manipulation and American foreign policy, not to mention nonsensical pop lyrics. The Interview is just full of surprises, from its surprisingly well-judged female characters (Caplan and Diana Bang are both great) to its surprisingly strong cinematography. This isn’t just a feature-length sketch but at least semi-serious cinema.

Obviously it’s hard to view The Interview without any preconceptions, whether inflating its importance or approaching it with undue cynicism, but it’s worth trying. It’s undeniably slack in places, but on the whole Rogen and Goldberg’s latest is a pleasure to behold. Preposterous and puerile, yes, but also political and stuff.