Monday, April 20, 2009

Movie Review: State of Play

State of Play ***
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Written By: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray based on the BBC Series written by Paul Abbott.
Starring: Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne), Robin Wright Penn (Anne Collins), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (Rep. George Fergus), Michael Berresse (Robert Bingham), Harry Lennix (Det. Donald Bell), Josh Mostel (Pete), Michael Weston (Hank), Barry Shabaka Henley (Gene Stavitz), Viola Davis (Dr. Judith Franklin), David Harbour (PointCorp Insider), Sarah Lord (Mandi Brokaw), Tuck Milligan (PointCorp Executive), Stephen Park (Chris Kawai), Brennan Brown (Andrew Pell), Maria Thayer (Sonia Baker).

State of Play is a somewhat old fashioned movie – and I mean that in the best of ways. It is a thriller that doesn’t really on violence, car chases or action to provide the audience with thrills. It doesn’t feel the need to provide the characters with unnecessary love interests or provide the audience with any false dramatics. It is a film that would feel at home in the 1970s, where character based thrillers like this one were more popular.

The story is about Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), a reporter for the Washington Globe, who finds himself in the middle of the biggest story of his career. His old college roommate Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is now a Congressman in the middle of highly publicized hearings looking in PointCorp, a private defense contractor who supplies the army with highly paid “mercenaries”, and is looking to expand their business. Then an aide of Collins, Sonia Baker, is killed by a subway train. It looks like suicide. It quickly comes out that Collins was having an affair with the young woman. It also quickly becomes apparent to McAffrey, that not everything is as it seems, and that Baker’s death may be connected to the double murder he was covering for the paper. He teams up with Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a blogger with the paper, to try and get to the bottom of the case.

I wouldn’t dream of giving away any more of the plot than that, because the chief pleasure in watching the movie is seeing this complex story unfold, with each new twist taking us in a new direction, yet keeping the story entirely plausible throughout. This isn’t a movie that becomes increasingly ludicrous as it goes along, but simply more involving, as layer after layer is revealed.
This is not a movie that spends a whole lot time on character development – there really is no need. The characters are defined, and define themselves, based on the jobs they do. Crowe is the seasoned, cynical reporter, who makes no apologies for trying to help out his old friend. That he had an affair with Collins’ wife (Robin Wright Penn) is known to everyone, but the wound seems to have mainly healed. Wright Penn doesn’t seem hurt by the affair that Collins had with his aide, just sorry that it is going to make his life more difficult. Crowe plays his role to perfection. He is at the heart of nearly every scene in the movie, and he holds our attention.

Affleck has a somewhat more difficult role, as his characters hold his cards closer to his chest – he doesn’t reveal his true motivations very often, but he plays the role wonderfully. Affleck is often an actor I cannot stand, but when given the right role – and this is that – he can be great. McAdams has what in some ways is the stock role of young, na├»ve reporter, but she doesn’t play it like a deer caught in the headlights, but as a smart young woman eager to get herself a break. In a lesser movie, she and Crowe would fall in love, but there is none of that here – just a mutual respect. The supporting cast, many of whom often only have a few scenes, is filled with great actors. Helen Mirren as the editor who wants the story, and wants to save her paper, Henry Lennix as the cop who is frustrated that Crowe seems to be holding back information on his case, Jeff Daniels as another Congressman who speaks cryptically to Collins about what they need him to do, Viola Davis as coroner. No one is better than Jason Bateman however, who has a few scenes as a sleazy informant, who pretty much steals the movie with his snappy delivery. Bateman has become one of Hollywood’s “go to” actors for roles like this (which is good, otherwise, we’d have to see Jeremy Piven in everything, and no one wants that).

Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), keeps the movie going at a fast pace, which is good for a movie like this which is mainly driven by the plot. The screenplay, by three wonderful writers Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) and Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) is intelligent and thoughtful, and gets most of the details just right. If the movie isn’t quite as involving as it could have been, it’s because we never really care that much about the characters. They are acted to perfection, but they aren’t very deep. Still however, State of Play is an intelligent thriller, and a hell of an entertaining way to spend an evening.

No comments:

Post a Comment