Thursday, April 23, 2009

State of Play

I was a bit reluctant about going to see this film, and actually didn't really consider it until all the good reviews came pouring in. While the cast is very impressive, the trailer looked and felt like a cookie-cutter thriller. I finally went with my fiancé to see it last night, and it did not disappoint. In hindsight, I shouldn't be surprised. State of Play is a thriller directed by Kevin Macdonald (who helmed The Last King of Scotland in 2006), but more importantly, Tony Gilroy worked on the screenplay, and if you read my review of Duplicity, you know how I feel about his writing. I think his work here in State of Play is right up there with Michael Clayton and the Bourne trilogy, truly impressive stuff.

The film, which is an adaptation of the BBC mini-series of the same name, follows
Washington Post reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) as he tries to unravel the mystery behind the murders of a petty thief and a pizza delivery guy and the supposed suicide of a political aid. The aid is a young woman who was working on a case for Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) involving a huge global defense contractor who was essentially fighting for its corporate life against a congressional hearing implicating improprieties, with billions of dollars on the line. Rep. Collins, it turns out, was college roommates with Cal, who also happened to be romantically involved, at one point, with the congressman's wife (Robin Wright Penn). This made for an interesting love triangle, not an overbearing or annoying element of the film at all. There was also a sub-plot involving the financial crisis of the Washington Post, and their need to sell newspapers at all costs in order to stay afloat in this high-tech world of instant news via the internet. Enter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a primary blogger on the papers web-site, representing the "new school" of journalism. McAdams brings a young, pretty face to this crowd of seasoned vets, and doesn't hold it back in any way, although her character is not the strongest part of the narrative. There are also some great scenes between Crowe and Helen Mirren, who plays the editor that, while sympathetic to Cal's stubborn, "old school" methodology, is willing to do whatever it takes to sell papers.

The story keeps moving at a fairly rapid pace throughout, although it never gets confusing or disorienting. There are several moments in the film that create such great suspense that it reminded me of the feeling I had while watching No Country for Old Men, although there is no other similarities between these films. I think the only time I was really pulled out the story was towards the end, when one of the characters does something that to me completely contradicted the nature and reality of that character's behavior up to that point, purely to serve the plot and wrap things up nicely. It didn't ruin the movie for me by any means, just knocked it down a notch from where it could have been. Another item of note, Macdonald caps everything off with a very cool and informative closing credit sequence that hopefully will inspire similar treats in other films.

State of Play was a very enjoyable, adult thriller, which is sadly a genre that seems to be losing popularity. In recent years I can only think of a few films, such as Michael Clayton and Breach (whose author, Billy Ray, also helped pen State of Play), that were as good and well written. Not to mention, this is such a impressive collection of actors, including, in addition to those I've mentioned, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, and even Viola Davis (much celebrated recently, for her few scenes in Doubt) in a small role. I highly recommend this film and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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