Monday, September 19, 2011

The dark side of the law

The Interview 1998 Australia (103 minutes) directed and cowritten by Craig Monahan.
This is a taut crime drama and a marvelously complex character study in a deceptively simple setting.
The story centers on a series of interviews between a veteran detective, his rookie partner, and a suspected car thief, which take place one morning in a generic Australian state police interview room. 
Detective Sergeant John Steele (Tony Martin) is a seasoned interrogator whose calm, deliberate watchfulness provides the bite in contrast to the excessively combative, physical bark of his partner, Detective Senior Constable Wayne Prior (Aaron Jeffery).
Eddie Rodney Fleming (Hugo Weaving) is the quarry: a hapless, unemployed, middle-aged man seized from his apartment early one morning, who eventually finds out he is accused of having stolen a car.
The evidence against Fleming is circumstantial, thin at best.
A man fitting Fleming’s description was seen with the owner of the stolen car, a man named Beecroft, in a rural area out of town at the time the car purportedly was stolen. Steele shows Fleming an ownership title that indicates that Beecroft ‘transferred’ the car to a Paul Williams. Both Beecroft and Williams have disappeared; both signatures on the title allegedly are forged—and match Fleming’s handwriting.
Barry Walls (Michael Caton), a veteran newspaper police beat reporter, gets wind that something is up when department head Detective Inspector Jackson (Paul Sonkkila) clears him to speak with Steele, ostensibly about the Fleming case.
Walls has been looking into a pattern of similar disappearances: unsolved missing persons cases involving ordinary, everyday middle-aged city dwellers. The Beecroft case fits the pattern.
Steele does not like reporters. He does not like Walls. Department politics make him leery of his boss and colleagues, including his beefy, gung-ho partner, whom he angrily cautions: ‘There are too many people around here with their own agendas.’ But Steele may have a use for Walls before this tale is over.
Steele’s higher-ups assigned him to the case because he has a record for getting results. His effectiveness comes with a reputation for pushing hard in interrogations. Four suspects have filed official complaints against him in the last three years, all dismissed.
It is clear that Steele is audiotaping his interviews with the suspect for the record and an ‘objective’ narrator shows us Steele, Prior and Fleming sitting around a table in the interview room. But a camera hidden in the console below the audio tape deck is trained on the three men at the table. The ‘objective’ narrator who shows us the three men in the room also shows us another person watching what this hidden camera is seeing from this vantage point on a television monitor in another room in the building—particularly before and after Steele switches the audiotape on.  
Chiaroscuro lighting of a range of brown tones and a moody original score composed and performed by David Hirschfelder lend to the dark atmosphere of the piece.
Fleming eventually owns that he is a serial killer. When pressed for a motive after he spins a yarn about killing Beecroft, Fleming smiles at his two interrogators and memorably tells them with a smile, ‘It was his time to grin at the lid’—the coffin lid.
However, Fleming’s confession becomes incidental to other forces at work, and each of this cast of actors does a first rate job in bringing off this all-too-realistic story.
Who could imagine police department officials using evidence of a purported abuse of a suspect’s constitutional rights to play politics against one of their own?
The only people who might not be surprised at how this story shakes out are police investigators, lawyers who defend and prosecute criminals, and court and police beat reporters.
The final shot is reminiscent of the end of The Usual Suspects (1995), with Fleming, like Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, the character played by Kevin Spacey, released from police custody and moving down the street away from the police station looking increasingly satisfied with himself. The main difference is that here two shadow teams of four policemen are tailing Fleming.

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