Dave Skylark (James Franco), host of a TV talk show, "Skylark Tonight," gets a chance to travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen), the producer of the talk show, sees that as an opportunity to boost the show's journalistic credibility. CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) has another other goal in mind when she contacts Dave and Aaron: she wants them to assassinate Kim Jung-un by poisoning him.
By now, you've probably heard a lot about The Interview and how controversial its concept is. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Evan Goldberg doesn't deliver when it comes to political satire and comedy because much of it is toothless, asinine, tedious and more silly than actually funny. One particularly unfunny joke that's goes on for too long is when Dave says "They hate us, cuz they ain't us" while pronouncing "ain't us" like "anus." It's as though the film were written by and for 12-year-olds given the kind of gross-out, repetitive humor found here. Lowbrow humor could work if it's done with wit intact (see Mel Brooks' films or the political satire In the Loop as an example) and if you don't feel like you're losing brain cells while watching it. A few scenes with Kim Jong-un do generate a chuckle or two, but they're far and few between.
The Interview fails to even sustain its entertainment value because of its running time of 112 minutes. Comedies that clock past 90 minutes better have a good reason, but this film's plot is too wafer-thin and doesn't have enough laughs or bite to justify why it's longer than that. In fact, it might have worked better as a short or as a series of comedic skits instead of a feature length film. The Interview is ultimately a toothless, brainless comedic misfire that's low on laughs, wit and clever satire. If you're expecting this to become a cult classic comedy, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov), a handyman,
lives in a small coastal town in Russia with his wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and teenage son, Roma
(Sergey Pokhodaev). The town's mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), wants to seize Kolya's house under the
law of eminent domain, but Kolya refuses to lose his house even if he were to be compensated a hefty
sum. Kolya's friend, Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), agrees to be his lawyer who helps him to fight
the greedy, corrupt mayor. Lilya happens to be having an affair with Dmitriy because he marriage
with Kolya has become stale.
Screenplay by writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev and co-writer Oleg Negin blends drama, tragedy, politics and dry comic relief with humanism in a way that's not always engaging because of the very slow pace and excessive dialogue-free moments. A film is as good as its villain, though, so, fortunately the mayor who serves as the villain comes across as an interesting character despite being unlikable---he's often, drunk, aggressive and arrogant not unlike a gangster. What he does to send Kolya to prison will make your blood boil. There are a lot of conflicts to be found even among the relationships beyond the mayor and Kolya, i.e. the crumbling marriage of Kolya and Lilya, the tensions between Kolya and his son, and eventually the tensions between Kolya and Dmitriy.
Zvyagintsev wisely avoids turning the film into a melodrama or into a palpably suspenseful thriller, although it could have veered into those directions given what transpires to Kolya. Instead it's a very slow-burn, heartfelt drama with a few surprises along the way, including some offbeat humor and thought-provoking references to Job which will make you look at Kolya and his family in a different light. The cinematography provides for many hauntingly beautiful shots and even some poignantly lyrical ones that speak volumes with the help of a well-chosen score by Philip Glass. It would have been an interesting artistic choice if Zvyagintsev were to shoot it in black-and-white. Leviathan is just as emotionally devastating as some of Michael Haneke's best films, although, with its overlong running time of 2 hours and 21 minutes, it's not nearly as captivating as it could have been with tighter editing.