State of Play - Movie Review
By Anne Brodie Apr 17, 2009, 15:12 GMT
Based on the BBC BAFTA winning series. A political thriller about two friends, one a member of Parliament and the other a journalist, who find themselves on opposite sides of an investigation into two seemingly unrelated murders. ...more
State of Play is a terrific idea waiting to happen. And there’s an interesting cast - Russell Crowe as Cal, a hygiene-challenged reporter for a leading Washington newspaper and Ben Affleck as Stephen, his college roommate, now a Congressman and rising political star. Helen Mirren is Cal’s hard but soft inside editor and Rachel McAdams is the requisite young thing blogging about the Hill a couple of desks over.
The film is based on a superb 2003 English television series starring John Simm and young unknowns Kelly MacDonald and James McAvoy. A London politician’s assistant is found dead on the subway tracks around the same time a street thug is found shot.
Fast forward to Washington, and this version, where Stephen is leading a congressional hearing into corporate misdeeds. He cries on camera when he learns that his 24-year old mistress has been killed. She’s found on a train track and labelled a suicide. There is evidence to confirm that she was not suicidal. A couple of other murders are mysteriously linked to her death, and Cal is on the case like white on rice.
There’s this conspiracy, see? Suffice to say, members of the government, military and private interests are plotting to stage an overthrow of humungous proportions. It makes strange sense that a plot as dastardly as this could be put into play.
Take and unpeel the script like an onion, each layer progressively smellier than the last. Layer on a plot as holey as Swiss cheese and that’s what we’ve got. The film begins strong, aided by that impressive cast, but loses steam as too many coincidences and red (pickled) herrings pile up.
There are things to like however. Jason Bateman is an absolute dirty delight as an entertainment entrepreneur linked to Stephen’s dead mistress and the corporate bosses Stephen’s grilling. His performance is chilling, brilliant and unique, and too short. He’s high and frightened as he gets a brutal once over and realises things are only going to get worse.
Robin Wright Penn, one of the film’s grace notes, is subtle, radiant and mournful as Stephen’s wife, humiliated by her husband’s affair. She’s protecting volatile secrets of her own.
The talented but underused Oscar nominee Viola Davis appears for about thirty seconds as a medical examiner. And New York stage actor Michael Berresse impresses as a disgruntled ex-military man with serious firepower.
More frightening than any of that is Helen Mirren as Cal’s editor. She’s tough, pragmatic, chilly and impatient, but she is Helen Mirren after all, a hell of a Dame. And she loves her Cal.
One of the more interesting aspects of State of Play is its sentimental nod to the newspaper. The newspaper industry is increasingly irrelevant today as people take their news on the run, on handheld screens or overhead digital tickers. McAdams’ character Della, the symbol of the new online world, asks Crowe if the bombshell article he’s writing shouldn’t leave ink on the fingers of its readers as though it is more dignified to handle a paper than read a screen.
Just seems silly as the newspaper industry suffers blow after blow in the real world. This bit of sentiment is seriously ill-advised and will look even dopier as time goes on.
State of Play
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray
Directed by Kevin McDonald
Opens April 17
Runtime 127 minutes
MPAA Rated PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content