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There Goes the Ozone Layer

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In school, I spent weeks breaking down an Ibsen masterpiece into dramatic “beats”: small units of dialogue that end in sudden reversals or shifts in focus. Good writers, good directors, good actors, know the change of beat is the pulse of any scene. Buscemi is a brilliant writer, director, and actor, and each beat in Interview is crystalline. Katya’s cell phone goes off with a ring that sounds like a dog yapping: irritating as hell. Pierre watches Katya on her phone on her bed, her long legs in the air, the actress erotically in tune with her beautiful “instrument.” Pierre lacerates Katya for lack of talent in everything but seduction, Katya shows her power by coming on to and rejecting him, Pierre snaps he doesn’t fuck celebrities, Katya hisses she doesn’t fuck nobodies. As Pierre grows more drunk and devious, our sympathies begin to turn. We see that Katya’s counteroffensives are a mark of sanity.

I wonder if Sienna Miller came up short as Edie Sedgwick because, no matter how hard she tried (and how good she was), she couldn’t be a blank, a non-actress. She’s a stupendous actress. Her Katya is lazy but wily—and increasingly turned on by the game she keeps insisting she doesn’t want to play. The dance—the surrender that’s really a tease—keeps her en pointe. In some ways, the last half-hour is a letdown. Things come to a melodramatic head: The evening ends with a winner and a loser, a hero and a villain, instead of staying tantalizingly amorphous. But the grip of Interview never slackens. This is the movie with the beat you can’t stop.

As they proved in their last collaboration, 28 Days Later, the director Danny Boyle and the writer Alex Garland can steal from everyone and still make you feel as if they’re blazing new ground. That last film played like all of George Romero’s Living Dead pictures jammed together and pixelated—but it was good! So is Sunshine, in which they’ve taken 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Silent Running, mixed in stuff from save-the-earth pictures like The Core and Deep Impact, and thrown in a cheesy climax out of Alien. The first hour and change is gangbusters, the last part unnerving enough to get by.

The best thing they do is put the eeriness back into space travel. Our team of astronauts and scientists is en route to the dying sun with some kind of massive nuclear bomb—they’re going to put a sun inside the sun. (I haven’t checked the science, but presumably it’s quite sound.) (Kidding.) The sun is a mystical object: It magnetizes people as it incinerates them, and it gives the reflective panels on the long ship (and the pressure suits) a golden radiance. It bestows life, and it drives people crazy. The ambient score by John Murphy and Underworld is hypnotic and ominous—like solar winds converted into music.

Sunshine is overheated—a compliment and, later, a dig. Boyle mixes streaky, tricked-up, disorienting close-ups with longer establishing shots, but in the climax, it’s hard to sort out the images; the thing is almost abstract. By then, most of the characters have either heroically sacrificed themselves or been murdered. Happily, we still have Cillian Murphy, whose otherworldly blue eyes make him just about the coolest space protagonist imaginable.

Hairspray
Directed by Adam Shankman. New Line Cinema. PG.

Interview
Directed by Steve Buscemi. Sony Pictures Classics. R.

Sunshine
Directed by Danny Boyle. Fox Searchlight. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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