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An actress and a journalist in duel of wills

Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller costar as a journalist and actress in 'Interview,' a remake of the 2003 drama of the same name by murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller costar as a journalist and actress in "Interview," a remake of the 2003 drama of the same name by murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. (JOJO WHILDEN/SONY PICTURES CLASSICS)

In "Interview ," Steve Buscemi tries to raise a ghost and almost succeeds.

The much-loved character actor ("Fargo ") and writer-director of dourly honest slices of Americana ("Trees Lounge ," "Lonesome Jim ") has decided to remake the 2003 Dutch film of the same name as a tribute to its director, Theo van Gogh , who was murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004 .

Van Gogh was nothing if not confrontational in life and art, but "Interview" is straightforward enough. An escalating duel of wills between a sleazy journalist and a famous actress, it's what they call a "two-hander" in the theater. Imagine "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? " without the secondary couple: Just two main characters going primal on each other.

Obviously, this holds out the promise of acting fireworks, and Buscemi (as the journalist) and Sienna Miller (as the actress) don't disappoint. Beginning in a trendy New York restaurant and moving to a vast, murky loft, this struggle for dominance is by turns blistering, cruel, satiric, and sad.

He's Pierre Peders from News- world , a political reporter relegated to the celebrity beat for unspecified sins against journalism. She's Katya -- just Katya -- a star of hit TV dramas, cheap horror movies, and the Internet, where her nude photos circulate freely. He thinks she's a media whore. She thinks he's an elitist creep. They're both right.

As the evening progresses, and the Scotch and cocaine begin to flow, the couple moves through a series of psychological feints and clinches, and whenever Pierre thinks he has a bead on his mercurial subject, she shifts shapes. Buscemi is as fascinating to watch as ever -- he refuses to sugarcoat Pierre's more loathsome traits -- but this is the first movie where I've been convinced Miller actually has something.

Her Edie Sedgwick in last year's "Factory Girl " got lost in that movie's willful shallowness, but "Interview" gives Miller more than enough space to build a character whose contradictions seem ugly and real. Katya's smarter than her public persona but she's still a needy wreck, and she uses acting as a weapon to keep the journalist (and us) off-balance throughout. His mistake may be to assume there's a real Katya there at all.

The movie touches on interesting pressure points, like the tension between popularity and art. "Why do you choose the most commercial crap out there?" Pierre asks at one point. "I enjoy entertaining millions and millions of people," Katya responds, and it's not a boast but a fact. Maybe fame and neurosis has boxed the actress in, but the journalist is a prisoner of his own cynicism, and "Interview" implies that's the harder sentence to serve.

The one element missing from the film is a sexual dynamic. Well, it's there but you don't buy it. Pierre Bokma had a robust intellectual machismo in van Gogh's original, and you believed that Katja (played by Dutch superstar Katja Schuurman; she gets a cameo at the end of the remake) might actually want to sleep with him. The possibility was at least an arrow in the film's quiver, another way to keep the audience off guard.

The new "Interview" does give the two a bit of groping and some eerie father-daughter near-role-play. Because Buscemi plays Pierre as an effete prig, though, it's impossible to see what attraction he might have for Katya. God love this man for playing characters with warts, but the film's balance of power is out of whack almost from the start.

It's also, ultimately, pointless. One comes away from "Interview" exhausted and a little unclean, entertained by the acting equivalent of a pit bull fight but needing a hose-down. The movie confirms that in every relationship "there are winners and losers." True enough, but for the audience this one's a draw.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/ movies/blog.

'Related'

Interview

Directed by: Steve Buscemi

Written by: Buscemi and David Schechter , based on a screenplay by Theodor Holman

Starring: Sienna Miller , Buscemi

At: Kendall Square, Embassy

Running time: 84 minutes

Rated: R (language, including sexual references, some drug use)

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