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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look43.24%
Average: 37.84%
Pretty Bad: 16.22%
Total Crap: 2.7%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

State of Play
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by Erik Childress

"And That’s Not...The Rest of the Story"
3 stars

With all the struggles the newspaper industry is going through in this economy, there is no better time to deliver a film based around some good old-fashioned journalism. Certainly we wouldn’t expect any box office hit to save the printing presses being absorbed by the online world, but in an era where celebrity gossip and speculative fact have taken over, we could use a reminder that there is still room for truth seekers not interested in their own personal glory. State of Play is based on Paul Abbott’s acclaimed 2003 BBC miniseries, a six-hour tale of political corruption and investigative journalism that found several hiccups on its condensed road to American cinema; most notably after original stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton dropped off the project. That’s just part of the story though since the film doesn’t exactly miss their presence but misses the opportunity after a promising start to capture some greater truths about modern-day newspapers and old-school political maneuvering and ends up, ironically, burying the lead beneath underdeveloped subplots and characters as well as a final act that seemed desperate to wrap itself up to meet its own deadline.

Washington D.C. reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is looking into the story behind a pair of gunshot victims. One, a homeless junkie that moves like a parkour expert, has been gunned down in an alley and a poor delivery guy who witnessed it lies comatose in the hospital. The next morning, a young woman named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) falls in front of a metro train. Was it suicide or something more nefarious? Turns out she was the research assistant for Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a rising star in Washington politics (and Cal’s college roommate) who is heading a committee hearing against a privatized company called PointCorp specialized in military funding. Stephen’s affair with the woman quickly materializes and he’s advised by Representative George Fergus (Jeff Daniels) to lay low, even from the hearings, and work on repairing the relationship at home with his wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn)

At the office, Cal casually gets goaded into exploring the Collins story by his editor (Helen Mirren) and young blogging columnist, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). He lays off, not interested in exploiting that relationship (and opening up some old wounds) but after Stephen comes to him and reveals some compulsory evidence against the claims of suicide Cal jumps right in and enlists Della’s help. It also gives him an excuse to meet up with Anne whom he’s always carrier a torch for. Cal’s investigation leads him to some ex-special force sources; one, a whistle blower and another (Michael Berresse) who has some hands-on involvement in the killings. There’s also flamboyant publicist, Dominic Foy (Jason Bateman) who may just have surprising tales to tell about Sonia’s true intentions with Stephen, and a homeless girl (Sarah Lord) with the contents of a briefcase that might interest the cops on the case.

State of Play tries to mix in the topical see-saw between the nutritiously-challenged beat reporter and the well-scrubbed young turks who can get all the info they need at the touch of an internet button and subscribe to the journalistic school of personal opinion rather than hard facts. Couple in the daily grind of newspapers from an investor’s standpoint and sometimes the facts have to take a backseat while they make their money today and apologize for it tomorrow. Ron Howard’s underappreciated The Paper had a sharp focus on this element of the business and Helen Mirren’s editor doesn’t nearly succeed where Glenn Close’s calculating manager did 15 years ago when the online world was little more than a Prodigy. Like a television show trying to be topical instead of just being, this bear in the room is only sprinkled throughout and plays third fiddle to the overall mystery that drives the picture in the first hour and the backroom politics that are handled below par at best.

Without even the benefit of a critic’s name to attach to it, State of Play’s ads are boasting it as “a murder mystery with a twist you’ll never see coming.” Which I would attest to viewers who have never seen the original miniseries or just about any hour-long mystery or half-hearted airport read you may have picked up. The themes that should be dominating State of Play’s every step never pick up the steam that would forgive its resolution and its evident in the way the screenplay picked up highly acclaimed writers to punch up what was always a pretty stale tale of corporate greed. After original screenwriter, Matthew Michael Carnahan (who had a lot to say about world politics in Lions for Lambs and even the setup for action thriller, The Kingdom) turned in his last draft, the film turned to both Tony Gilroy (who cut his teeth on corporate malfeasance in Michael Clayton and Duplicity) and Billy Ray (whose Shattered Glass is one of the most devastating indictments on newspaper fact-checking.) That’s a dream team that seems perfect to unite their three specialties for this particular project, but somewhere along the lines the characters themselves were practically left for dead.

Once you get past the idea that Crowe and Affleck were college roommates and that one (8 years the other’s senior) wasn’t held back a few years, you still have to think that such speculation is more interesting than their actual on-screen relationship. Affleck’s politician is almost an afterthought throughout much of the film, popping in more at Cal’s request than providing the necessary character traits that has us caring one way or another how responsible he is. Wright Penn’s wife, a key character in the miniseries who admits to her own infidelities to help her husband and who continues to carry on with none other than Cal, has been stripped down to a passé distraction for the reporter. McAdams’ blogger is given no strengths whatsoever either as a glorified columnist discovering the rush of actual reporting or as a representation of the new guard’s weaknesses. Because these are the people left to allow this story to drive them, Jason Bateman gets to deliver the most dynamic performance as the arrogant witness. It may seem flashy but that’s because most everyone else (except Crowe) is so non-descript. In reality it’s a perfectly honed piece of work that steals the film away from everyone and is actually worthy of award consideration come December.

Since Bateman arrives late in the film’s second act, we’re given precisely the kind of jolt we need to keep us interested beyond the bland characterizations and the few true surprises we’ve been delivered so far. This all comes to a head though in the final act when the final pieces of the puzzle are delivered in, not one, but two lengthy confessions, the standard how-could-that-person-have-known-that revelation that gets Cal to the real truth and a standoff that makes Somali pirates look successful involving a trained killer who decides to “finish what they started” by dressing up in full gear to take out our hero at close range when we’ve already seen his skills sniping a hospital target out of sight. Mind you this is the same trained professional who looks directly at a security camera to give the authorities a good look at his face. State of Play begins with the kind of energy we expect from a good conspiracy thriller only to have its pace decrease to a level that reflects the shift from the days of All the President’s Men or even something as recent as The Insider to where the 24-hour news cycle is today. State of Play sets up the idea that “this murder is covering up the real story” and then never deals with the question about the greater good being more important than exposing a single culprit for tomorrow’s headlines. Director Kevin MacDonald winds up betraying the film’s central cause and never approaches its final moments with the kind of sad cynicism that isn’t speculation but absolute fact.

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originally posted: 04/17/09 14:00:00
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User Comments

3/25/18 morris campbell entertaining but nothing special 3 stars
12/28/12 fartvenugen Most incompetent assassin in history of cinema 1 stars
10/12/09 FrankNFurter Retarded plot twist u could see coming a mile away. "Current events" does not = "deep." 2 stars
10/03/09 Jack Marks Crusty the clown plays news reporter, oi 2 stars
9/22/09 cmay I still don't get it. Was Affleck part of pointco? 4 stars
9/08/09 action movie fan dull film no thrills 2 stars
9/02/09 Jeff Wilder Great acting even if the script is uneven in spots. 4 stars
7/26/09 Bryan The actors help keep things moving, but it becomes fairly muddled as it goes along. 3 stars
4/27/09 Jack Sommersby Frustratingly uninvolving and depleted of interesting characterizations. 2 stars
4/25/09 BostonCharlie I liked Crowe's scruffy reporter. Even liked Affleck. Guess I'll never be a reviewer. 4 stars
4/18/09 Nick Uuum...oh, I'm sorry. I was sleeping. Is this crap over yet?? 2 stars
4/18/09 Steve Exceptionally good thriller with lots of twist that keep you engaged throughout this film 4 stars
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  17-Apr-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 01-Sep-2009


  DVD: 01-Sep-2009

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