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3 ½ Stars: Responsibilities of Credible Reporting Collides With a Murder Mystery
on September 2, 2009
Based on the BBC mini-series, director Kevin McDonald's "STATE OF PLAY" blends the two most reliable, favorite ingredients of an effective thriller; a political-conspiracy thriller mixed in with a journalism drama with a touch of a murder mystery mixed in. The film's direction can be taut, clean and energetic that plays on the moralities of politics and the responsibility of credible reporting. Kevin McDonald maneuvers the film's script in a meaty web of intrigue and suspense that is nicely acted and honest in its execution.
Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is a seasoned reporter working at a struggling newspaper called "The Washington Globe". When the research assistant (played by Maria Thayer) and lover to a congressman named Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is killed, her mysterious death provokes a lot of speculation for a high-profile story. Cal has a history with Collins and his wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn), so he is the natural pick to tackle this story. But Cal becomes conflicted with what story he wants to tell the longer he digs for the truth; which leads him to team up with a young inexperienced reporter named Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to sort out the mystery full of political intrigue to avoid further bloodshed and uncover the real story behind all the rumors and deceptions. Cal now finds himself face to face with his own `crisis of conscience' as his own proven investigative skills may not coincide with the needs for profit and that the real story may alienate his own friends.
"State of Play" is a thriller that tries to keep its toes by mixing in elements of a political thriller that touches on some real world events after the tragedy of 9/11 and the responsibilities of credible fact-finding. The script by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Matthew Carnahan (The Kingdom) and Billy Ray has its share of good dialogue delivered by characters that has some layers and dimensions that proved interesting. Cal represents the old-school style of reporting; he checks his facts, looks for credible sources and ignores the unnecessary hidden stories. His dislike on young inexperienced blogger Della comes absolutely natural. Cal sees her as the spoiled reporter who may write appealing articles who happen to have a better computer and a better office. The two are representations of the signs of the times and the internet phenomenon. It was also nice to see the script avoid the trappings of a perfunctory romance between the two reporters but instead director McDonald uses a sort of a mentor-student type of relationship between the two after they realize that they are both after the same thing.
The film's political side comes from the character of Stephen Collins who may have the best interests of the country at heart, although he made some mistakes on some decisions such as bedding his own research assistant. The screenplay is a little cautious, but it does point an accusing finger at certain corporations who make huge profit from a war. Apparently the privatization of soldiers in the war against terror is one profitable industry, and these soldiers are just mercenaries answerable to no one. The moral responsibilities of fighting a war are touched upon as well as maintaining the image of a clean public figure. Smear campaigns, damaging rumors and speculations are used to manipulate Congress to satisfy the needs of big corporate America.
Director McDonald does get the atmosphere and the fast-paced feel of a newspaper right. I liked the old-school `press room' with the editor looking above the reporters. McDonald is to be commended that he remembered to bring such late night hurdles into exposition; although frankly, the stereotypical character of Cal's editor in the person of Helen Mirren should've been abandoned. Mirren does a good performance as Cal's impatient and overly cautious editor, but her character has been overused in other films in this genre. The shady, corrupt politician in the person of Jeff Daniels has also been done to death. I also have issues with the age factor between Cal and Collins; Affleck and Crowe just don't fit as former college buddies. Affleck is decent as the congressman but Crowe just looked so much older than him, I couldn't really buy into the idea that they're the same age. The relationship between Cal and Anne isn't really brought into fruition; quite frankly, it felt a little forced to add some spice to the screenplay.
The manner of which the plot unravels is full of various storylines that come to a satisfying ending but some elements feel unnecessary. The script should have been more compact and some scenes dragged a little bit. It doesn't really hurt the film but Jason Bateman's scenes should have been more efficiently played out. It also seemed to try too hard on satisfying its audience in both the cerebral conspiracy thriller fan base and the action junkies; it does work on some levels but I thought the script may have had the fear of becoming too talkie that it needed to bring some gunplay into the mix. Some of the scenes just didn't match the film's tone at times.
"State of Play" does have some nice touches such as an old-fashioned workhorse in the face of "blogger-space", it explores the morals of profit gain and the responsibilities of public officials; the problem is, sometimes, it just felt that the film didn't have confidence enough to stay within the realms of a journalistic drama. It tries to be too complex just for the sake of becoming complex, that it felt like it threw too many ideas that slowed the film's pace. It does feel predictable in the middle of the film, but I did appreciate the effort in delivering a credible thriller. It does deliver the goods and the effective revelations do hit the right spots.
Recommended! [3 ½ Stars]
Video/Audio: 2.35 ratio anamorphic widescreen. The picture looks pristine even when the colors looked a little restrained. The quality of the picture matches the film's tone. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is clear enough and well channeled.