Friday, April 17, 2009

Movie Review: State of Play

Bateman brings it. A short but sweet spot in State of Play which opens tonight all across the land.

All the President’s Men it’s not. State of Play, starring Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck, is a newsroom drama that tackles D.C. politics, corporate conspiracies, obsessive investigative journalism, and lowly bloggers. Adapted from the 2003 BBC miniseries, State of Play is a love letter to newspapers and critique of current media practices equating TV journalism with tabloid blogging. The film romanticizes an unrealistic (often illegal) old school approach to digging out “the truth” regardless of the collateral damage. With wonderful performances by an A-List cast, State of Play mirrors current events just enough to keep the intrigue without being an over politicized downer.

We meet Cal (Crowe) downing a bag of Cheetos on his way to a crime scene. Cal, a journalist's journalist, stumbles into a clear conflict of interest when he begins investigating a scandal involving Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck), his old college roommate. What starts with two seemingly unconnected deaths, a common street kid and the Congressman’s research assistant, unfolds into a moderately intricate, smartly paced story of redemption and media manipulation. Suspenseful and deadly serious at times, State of Play also manages to give its characters a realism that prevents it from being just another genre piece.

Crowe shines, even if is a dull dingy sort of sparkle, as a complex everyman with idiosyncrasies, faults and a bit of a gut. A particularly young looking Affleck is surprisingly nimble as the Congressman despite being miscast. It’s a stretch to imagine that Affleck and Crowe’s characters are supposed to be former college roommates. But the obvious age gap between them (Crowe is 8 years older) can be attributed to the opposing paths they have chosen in life. Best friends, with a complex and strained relationship, Cal drinks his whiskey from a paper cup, the Congressman probably prefers crystal. What they do share is an uncomfortably similar taste in women.

Is it just me or do they all have sort of the same haircut?

While Cal valiantly attempts to prevent further damage to the Congressman’s life, Della Frye (McAdams) is the thorn in Cal’s side. She’s a young, fashionable news blogger representing the next generation of journalists – the one that has no regard for the printed page. She goes for speculation over “real news” and the mentor/mentee relationship with Cal is charming and heartfelt without being cliché. And she’s a quick study. McAdams gives a subtle yet strong performance in a role that could’ve easily been sexed up to sell more seats. Thankfully the women throughout the picture are just as interesting as the men.

Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn and Jason Bateman are standouts in supporting roles. Mirren’s foul mouthed editor-in-chief of the struggling (and fictional) Washington Globe reinvents the grumbling boss man editors of past newsroom flicks. Penn deftly captures the torment of a Congressman’s wife in the middle of a scandal. Jason Bateman provides a little the comic relief while managing to bring his eccentric character to a very desperate place. Appearing quite late in the film and for only a few minutes, Bateman’s foray into a “darker character” is still awkwardly funny and dripping with his signature delivery.

State of Play offers a few surprises near the end and maintains great tension throughout. Well played and written characters along with understated and richly textured cinematography complete this world where it seems like it’s always raining over The Capitol. While there are few too many jump cuts to mystery men in trench coats and unmarked helicopters sprinkled throughout the film, but it’s a small glitch in an otherwise very enjoyable feature. King of Scotland’s director, Kevin Macdonald as another quite hit with this topical and compelling story of superbly crafted characters mixed with a little journalistic cloak and dagger.


State of Play
127 min
Dir.: Kevin Macdonald
Based on the 2003 series created by Paul Abbot
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robib Wright Penn
Rated PG-13 for some cursing, some shooting, Bateman's drug binge and excessive helicopter gyrations.