The Interview
Sony Pictures Entertainment/Columbia Pictures
Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Writers: Dan Sterling (Screenplay) (Story) | Seth Rogen (Story) | Evan Goldberg (Story)
Producers: Evan Goldberg | Seth Rogen | James Weaver
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Aaron Rapaport, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang

There’s a joke supposedly told in the Soviet Union during the Cold War in which an American is trying to explain to a Russian about freedom of speech. “Here in the United States,” says the American to the Russian, “I can freely denounce the President of the United States, the U.S. Congress, and the Supreme Court of the United States, and no one will arrest me, send me to prison, or threaten my family.”

“We have the exact same freedom of speech in the USSR,” replies the Russian proudly. “I can also freely denounce the President of the United States, the U.S. Congress, and the Supreme Court of the United States, and no one will arrest me, send me to prison, or threaten my family.”

Apparently, though, making a comedy satirizing a foreign dictator is not as simple as that, as Sony Pictures Entertainment/Columbia Pictures discovered when, following official denunciations from North Korean officials, a secret organization styling itself Guardians of Peace, after hacking Sony’s corporate computers releasing embarrassing interoffice emails and capturing file copies of unreleased movies, threatened terrorism against movie theaters showing The Interview, a Sony/Columbia Pictures comedy about a CIA-driven assassination attempt on the real-world dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

The Interview poster

Sony took the threat seriously enough first to re-edit the movie making it marginally less offensive to North Korea. Then Sony delayed the movie’s theatrical release from fall to Christmas Day. (I suggested in a tweet that as a Christmas release a movie about a political assassination would have been better titled It’s A Wonderful Death). Sony next notified the major theater chains that it would allow them to cancel the movie’s exhibition in their theaters without contractual penalties to Sony.

An outcry from free-speech advocates (my own during a December 18th interview on Russia Today’s “In the Now” program), including President Obama and George Clooney, caused Sony to make unprecedented efforts to reverse their decision, releasing the movie both on over 200 domestic theatrical screens on December 25th, as well as for rent or sale via online platforms including YouTube a day earlier.

Today I found the movie on YouTube and bought it for streaming, and after hooking up my YouTube access with the Roku box that allows me to watch Internet videos on my big plasma screen I watched it — a day before its theatrical release.

The Interview begins with a satire on the shallowness of current day American news programs that avoid hard news in favor of scandal and entertainment. I don’t think any North Korean critics noticed that. The plot then proceeds to a slapstick comedy that is more in the tradition of The Three Stooges’ short 1939 Columbia Pictures parody of Adolf Hitler, “You Nazty Spy,” than it is of Charles Chaplin’s far more elegant The Great Dictator.

You Nazty Spy

The Interview is good comedy and good political satire. In between obligatory jokes based on scatalogical bodily functions the action is actually motivated by intelligent dialogue and nuances of character. While not touching the exalted status of Stanley Kubrick masterpieces like Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange I wouldn’t hesitate to put it up with movies like Wag the Dog, Thank You for Smoking, or Team America: World Police.

It’s not a Christmas movie, but neither are other dissonant releases for the holiday season including American Sniper — but given the odd releasing pattern of this major studio film I suspect most of its views should and will continue well past its Christmas opening.

If you’re looking for a movie that aims its jabs at our own government — what the Russian during the Soviet Union era would not have been able to do without dire consequence — my own new movie Alongside Night can be booked for individual theatrical screenings right now but awaits wider release in 2015. If you want to encourage that sign this petition started before Sony reversed its decision not to release The Interview.

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