STATE OF PLAY
***1/2 (out of 5)
April 17, 2009
Russell Crowe as CAL MCAFFREY
Ben Affleck as STEPHEN COLLINS
Rachel McAdams as DELLA FRYE
Helen Mirren as CAMERON LYNNE
Robin Wright Penn as ANNE COLLINS
Jason Bateman as DOMINIC FOY
Jeff Daniels as GEORGE FERGUS
Directed by: Kevin MacDonald
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Over the past several weeks, we have seen a number of grown-up political and espionage thrillers. Both “The International” and “Duplicity” starred Clive Owen, and neither one was very good. However, the new film “State of Play” has nothing to do with Clive Owen, and it turns out to be a pretty good flick. Go figure.
Based on the 2003 BBC miniseries of the same name, “State of Play” is a political thriller in the spirit of movies like “All the President’s Men.” Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is a squeaky-clean congressman who is heading an investigation of a corporate giant. One morning, his assistant is found dead, sparking media reports that they were having an affair.
Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is an old-school journalist from the Washington Globe who is old friends with Collins, and he spearheads an investigation at the paper. Along for the ride with McAffrey is Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a young and eager internet journalist at the Globe. Together, they are able to uncover parts of a conspiracy that puts McAffrey’s old friend in the center of a heated political scandal.
The story has plenty of twists and turns in the plot, making it interesting to follow for the almost two-hour running time. It’s not entirely unpredictable or original. I did guess several of the twists before they came. However, it was interesting to watch the whole thing play out before my eyes.
The real reason this film works is because of its stellar cast. Along with Crowe, McAdams and Affleck (and yes, Ben Affleck does a fine job acting in the movie), there’s supporting roles from Helen Mirren as the cutthroat newspaper editor, Jeff Daniels as the party loyalist politician and Jason Bateman as a morally corrupt spin-meister. Even Barack Obama look-alike Henry Lennix makes an appearance as the detective heading the murder investigation.
Another aspect to this film that just make me giggle was the fact that it showed the inner workings of a newspaper and played service to how the print media – at least as a source of up-to-date news – is a dying breed. Having worked at a paper myself for a few years, even as a low-level entertainment reporter, I appreciated the nods to the political system within the editing structure and how print publications are held to a higher standard than those on the Internet.
“State of Play” does run a bit long at times, often bogging down with a side story involving McAffrey’s age-old relationship with Collins’ wife (Robin Wright Penn). In some ways, it felt this storyline was forced in the film as a way to present a strong female character. However, when the part of the newspaper editor was awarded to Helen Mirren (instead of a man like Bill Nighy in the original BBC production), the need for the strong female character evaporated, and they could have left Penn out of the picture altogether.
The only other problem with the film is the supposition that Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck could have been roommates in college. They guys are about eight years apart in age, and it looks that way on screen. Maybe if Crowe’s character was a Ph.D. student rooming with a freshman political science major like Affleck’s character… but otherwise, this was the most preposterous thing in the whole movie.