Viewing The Interview

On January 6, 2015, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

As a journalist and media critic, I try to avoid opining on issues where I don’t have first-hand information, or at least solid source data. It felt comfortable commenting on the security and business issues around the Sony Hack and The Interview film censorship because I had some insight on that piece of the story, and a different angle: namely, that North Korea may not have been behind the hack, and regardless of the culprit, Sony’s culpability is worth contemplating.

Attempting to find the most apt metaphor for the event, I’d compare the Hack to having your office burglarized…after leaving the door open, and putting a sign on it that says: “Tons of valuable stuff here. I dare you to help yourself to any or all of it.”

Now that I’ve seen the film, The Interview, I have a whole new take on the urlentire episode. This is not just about a remote hack of the Sony Entertainment IT network. This is about how a gigantic producer of media content, one of the top 10 producers in the world, is spiritually, intellectually, and behaviorally detached from the actual substance of what it creates. And it didn’t take a hack to disconnect them. The Hack just showed the world that the chasm exists.

It isn’t merely ironic that the story of The Interview parallels the story of the Sony Hack on just about every level. It is a fiction that shines light on the truth. Without spoiling the plot in any way, if the Sony Corporate heads were the protagonists of their own film The Interview, the movie would have ended in the first act because they didn’t have the guts to stand up to the leader of North Korea, much less try to assassinate him.

It would be far easier to support Sony’s position if the film was a piece of shit. Something that the rumor mill at one point attempted to pin on the Seth Rogen / James Franco buddy/action/comedy. Not only is this film a worthy successor to the huge comedy hits Pineapple Express and This Is The End, it does those movies one better by having a real political point that is made and redeemed by the story.

Sony Pictures tried to water down the ending of the film prior to The Hack, backing away from the film’s message in the process. It then allowed threats, which may or may not have been from North Korea, to coerce them into pulling from release one of the best comedies of the year, and one of the best political comedies in years.

The Interview is, in my opinion, a Top 10 movie of 2014, and should garner at least a best original screenplay Academy Award nomination. Stars Seth Rogen and James Franco are probably also due at least a standing ovation from the Academy for being both brave enough, and clever enough, to pull this movie off, in spite of the ineptitude and cowardice displayed by Sony’s corporate honchos.

So if you’ve been thinking, for Pete’s Sake, this is another Rogen/Franco film, it’s just not that big of a deal for anyone to get worked up over, you’d be wrong. The politics, and the political satire, are spot on and downright prescient in light of the shit-storm stirred up by the film’s release. The real buffoons, in addition to Sony’s IT Department, are Sony’s executives, who lacked the presence of mind and fortitude to back up this production.

Sony failed to exhibit the strength of character to go to bat for The Interview and the people who made it work: Rogen, Co-Director Evan Goldberg, Franco, a largely excellent, no-name cast and screenwriter Dan Sterling. Sterling has written a film that’s clever, full of funny bits and memorable catchphrases.

There must have been someone behind the scenes saying: “It’s wrong to cave in to this pressure. We’ve got to be stronger.” If so, that person needs to be higher up the Sony Food Chain. The Interview hits all the right notes as a mainstream comedy, and an edgy, subversive piece of political satire. We are living an age where studios are afraid to produce political films, and, in the case of this $44 million feature, afraid to stand behind a great political comedy once they’ve made one.

Maybe it was the distributors who backed out due to threat of terrorism. Maybe it was the lawyers afraid of the corporate liability implied by those threats, regardless of the likelihood they would be carried out. Having seen The Interview for myself, knowing what it is, not just what people are saying about it, it’s painfully clear that Sony Entertainment took the most cowardly approach conceivable, enabling what may or may not have been North Korea to effectively censor their excellent release.

What Sony should have said, Distributors or no:

The Interview is funny, wickedly clever, and we stand behind it. It’s about manipulating people and popular opinion through the media, and if we as a media company don’t stand behind for our right to show this excellent film to you, we are providing aid and comfort to those who would manipulate us with lies and fear. We’re releasing this film because that’s how we do it in America.

Apparently that’s not how they do it at Sony Pictures. Grow a spine, Sony. Your film was worth going to bat for. How come you didn’t know that?


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