glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | february 2015
Wow ... Just WOW! … 'The Interview' has had a headline capturing, activism inspiring, anger inducing ride, hasn't it? Seth Rogan and James Franco's semi political comedy has certainly been garnering some attention in the last few weeks particularly due to one strange nation allegedly indulging in cyber crime to punish those responsible. The Sony films hacking has been touted as an outrage by some and exploited by others with the next Bond script being leaked, the awful looking and unnecessary Annie remake being put online and a whole bunch of unsurprising emails containing the frustrations and irritations of certain employees being put out for all to consume. I have not and I will not dignify the specific emails with examination simply because, however they come over to the casual reader, they were private communications. We all say irreverent and rude stuff between friends and in private and it's unfair to expect public relations standards conversations when the conversation was never intended to be in the public realm. Hypocrisy in a film studio's execs and employees is not new and let's face it; it's not public interest in the same way as it should be with a public servant.
Aside from what could be considered industrial vandalism, the fall out of which is debatable, let's take a look at the centre of all this madness. It looked pretty obvious that “The Interview" was looking to be a pretty mediocre film at best, a familiar one trick pony that hunkers under the mantle of satire to get away with some childish turd chucking. Its trick? Well we're going to kill Kim Jung-Un at the end, shenanigans ensue to get us there. Given the synopsis of the movie includes Kim Jong-Un filling his pants, we can be fairly sure of the level at which this comedy is set and it isn't satire that the likes of “The Daily Show" would recognise.
What “The Interview" is in fact is a bit of a mess. It's a film that struggles with its tone throughout its runtime, never finding or quite understanding just where it stands in terms of commentary, comedy and parody. The two lead characters seem to be ripped from very different versions of a script with Seth Rogans' Aaron Rapaport being at least occasionally something akin to a portrayal of a human being where James Franco is in near manic Jim Carey mode throughout as TV star interviewer Dave Skylark. This coupling of performances really does typify the film overall, it veers wildly along with the script from grotesque parody and infantile irreverence to moments of reflection and outright syrupy sentimentality. In this respect it all feels like the direction is off its meds.
It's a pity because in between all the toilet humour and occasional casual racism there is a core of the writers trying to empathise with the situation, even humanising the 'supreme leader' a bit in, what to be fair, comes over as a feature length rendition of Team America's song “I'm So Ronery" (here his song is Katy Perry's “Firework" ... make of that what you will). There is even some mockery thrown in the direction of American TV journalism here though that kind of peters out in the first quarter of the film. Had the makers found the films feet and dialled back the flamboyantly excessive and childish moments of gross-out humour then the film would be significantly more effective as a satire because it wouldn't be distracted from and dragged down by moments like Kim Jong-Un crapping his pants on TV.
It's pretty lowbrow, some folks will like that kind of thing but it's hardly the stuff that classics are made of. Team America is cited as a parallel, with its less than flattering depiction of Kim Jung-Un's father, but the parallels seem rather weak given the target of Team America's satire was less about the bad guy than it was the good guys. Sure it poked fun at the “So Ronery" despot , quite viciously in fact, and it also had the North Korean dictator die in a ridiculous fashion but again it's done with a parody of attitudes to foreigners right there, in shot. I would be remiss not to point out that there is some good stuff here too. For instance Dave and Aaron decide to strike with a character assassination rather than an actual one and that's a different approach to the problem, at least even if that attitude doesn't last until the credits. Also the bad guys are given some scope for being more than just evil for evils sake, it's not very flattering but Kim Jong-Un here is the product of a very weird and unloving childhood. But nothing is saving the film as a whole, it's too unfocused in all important respects, it flip flops in tone and style within a single scene and frankly it doesn't manage to give the gravity to the subject that it needs, even in a comedy.
Any disdain for the movie aside, the whole mess surrounding it has been quite a show in its own right and has had more impact than the movie itself could reasonably expect to have had. There are theories as to who exactly committed the crime itself ranging from a disgruntled Sony employee, to Pyongyangs's elite hacking team or even Sony indulging in a hideously mismanaged self publicity stunt, and then there are the accusations of China allowing them to operate on their turf and then allowing the US government to shut down the NK internet … it's all looking like the cross between a spy thriller/comedy and Mel Brookes “The Producers." On the face of it all, it looks a bit of a sorry state whichever way you cut it. It should be noted that even before the film was temporarily/permanently pulled/postponed that some things were changed in order to water down the movie's excesses. The released movie, it seems, is pre-censored. As a victory for freedom of speech it is somewhat of a pyrrhic victory though you wouldn't know that from the majority of the coverage. There has been very little said about that level of censorship, the pre-censorship by the studio, which is a process that happens all the time. There were no cries to reverse the cuts that were already made so is it possible that there it is less about the censorship? If that's the case it's not unreasonable to look at the events of the past few weeks from a slightly different point of view. The thing is that the whole mess is a lot less about censorship and freedom of speech than you would imagine. The studio was never at any point denied the right to distribute the film other than in the chain cinemas that basically responded to a threat of indeterminate origin, cowardice, prudence, I'll leave that to you to decide. Even President Obama went in front of the cameras and passive aggressively chided Sony to encourage them to release it and this very standard comedy had literally become an escalating international incident. The question of North Korea's direct involvement aside, it should be noted that the hermit nation has had a rich history of rhetorical tub thumping, something which could be based in a form of political self defence, after all when a nation is riled it makes it a lot more difficult and provocative to approach them either physically or politically, and also it's possibly a PR exercise for the home crowd. It isn't unusual for governments to fire out that kind of rhetoric, which is intended to galvanise the people at home, let's not forget the Iraq war with its comical propaganda, not least Chemical Ali or the NRK's previous blustering about their nuclear capabilities. Whatever is said about the film, particularly by Pyongyang, likely has an ulterior motive and the response to that does present opportunities for the US to expand sanctions. In short the whole thing has become a political game that overtook the original cause and all because of an unremarkable comedy film.
“The Interview" in its own right is a rather ham fisted film, patchy in its presentation and pitched at a multitude of levels that don't gel well, it's just not that good. But that hardly seems to matter. The real show is the reaction, the outrage on both sides which is what has elevated the film beyond anything it could have deserved and most interestingly for me as an anti censorship advocate, it stands as an example of just how censorship works entirely counter to its purpose.
Cynical Celluloid Score: 3.5/10
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.
For more of Glenn's work, visit his Youtube channel under the name lampyman101.