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“State Of Play” Should Remind Everyone That Russell Crowe Is Still A Movie Star

"State Of Play"

"State Of Play"

The newspaper journalist has been romanticized for quite some time in Hollywood. They are usually portayed as truth-seekers armed with a pen, paper, and a typewriter. In an age of instant information provided to us due to the 24-hour news cycle, that same age-old Hollywood hero is, in reality, dying a slow, painful death.

“State Of Play” is a movie that, much like the newspaper business, is also destined to disappear. The Internet has destroyed the print journalist and eventually, that entire industry will be gone. How does that kill a film genre? Well, it’s just not as thrilling or interesting to watch a blogger research their story online comfortably from their desk chair. Would “All The President’s Men” be as exciting if Woodward and Bernstein communicated with Deep Throat via an anonymous Hotmail email account?

“State Of Play” is based on a BBC mini-series with the same name. Of course, the six hour series has been condensed into a two hour film, so one could assume one of two things will happen: There will be massive plot holes or it will be completely dumbed down. Luckily, the movie does not completely spell everything out for the audience and it also chugs along without any real “WTF?” moments.

The plot is heavy and character-laden, but mostly revolves around a United States Congressman, Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), and the suicide of his female aide, Sonia Baker. Collins’ college roommate is a Washington Globe (very close to the Washington Post) homicide reporter, Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe). McCaffrey gets involved with the newspaper investigation and teams with blogger (Yay us!), Della Frye (Rachel McAdams).

This movie hits the ground running, which is probably due to Tony Gilroy, Matt Carnahan, and Billy Ray’s adaptation that forces six hours of mini-series into one film. After Baker’s apparent suicide, McCaffrey and Frye begin investigating numerous leads and angles into the story. The movie really does keep you guessing for the most part, even when it spells out exactly what is happening. The plot goes in many directions (big business conspiracy, drugs, sex scandal) but never gets sidetracked into character development or subplots.

The role of the editor was originally played by Bill Nighy for the BBC, but here, it is played by the great Helen Mirren. Mirren, as always, is fantastic in her few scenes and is really having some fun with Crowe. They growl and mouth off to each other in a way that gives you the feeling their characters have been working together for quite some time. Affleck is more of a supporting player here and it’s probably the best acting he has done since “Good Will Hunting”. He gives off the necessary poise and confidence that you would expect from a young U.S. Congressman. Jeff Daniels is yet again playing another three or four scene Jeff Daniels role as a West Virgnia Congressman and he typically knocks his role out of the park.

However, the revelation of “State Of Play” is Jason Bateman. He doesn’t appear until the last quarter of the movie and he is only in two scenes, but he quite possibly steals the entire movie. You won’t see much here about how or why Bateman’s character shows up, but he is hilariously obnoxious, rude, and absolutely essential to the plot. There is already a bit of a push about his role and the awards possiblity of it. While I doubt that would actually happen, it definitely is a performance worth noting if for no other reason than the proof that Bateman doesn’t have to always do comedy.

While Rachel McAdams has a few scenes of merit, she is also more of a supporting character as “State Of Play” belongs solely to Russell Crowe. It’s hard to believe that Brad Pitt pulled out of this very adult, grown up role, which is something that Pitt has not shown he can do. Instead, Crowe once more shows why he is one of the best actors working today. He grins and charms his way through almost every scene in the movie. Even when McCaffrey is not being a very nice guy, it’s impossible to dislike him because of Crowe. Crowe hasn’t had a chance to be a movie star in a quite some time and “State Of Play” is a reminder that he can still carry a movie on his shoulders…albeit hefty ones in this flick.

The Holy Grail

“State Of Play” is a compelling thriller that doesn’t try to be too clever. It has a few surprises, although not quite as big of a game-changing ending that the current TV commercials will have you believe. Sure, there are some twists and turns, but there isn’t a big Keyser Soze reveal moment or anything like that. Director Kevin MacDonald (“The Last King of Scotland”) finds a great pace that isn’t too slow or too frenetic and keeps you interested. The movie may have a few warts, but MacDonald has crafted the flick so well that you may not notice them.

Also, be sure to stick around for the credits, which feature an homage of sorts to the newspaper industry.

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  1. April 21, 2009 at 8:39 PM

    Nice review. I pretty much agree with you on most points, though I think McAdams was borderline terrible in her role.

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