Doodad Kind of Town

Quick Take: "State of Play"
April 19, 2009, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“State of Play” was the perfect choice for a Saturday matinee at the multiplex: an engrossing, competently made and well acted thriller that went down well with a bag of popcorn and a Diet Coke. And was easily forgotten afterwards.

If nothing else, it offers fresh evidence for the star power of Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren.

The film opens with a shaggy-haired Crowe driving his battered car too fast, rocking out to rowdy Irish music and gobbling Cheetos. That he turns out to be an old-school investigative journalist who writes stories on a 16-year-old computer and hates bloggers is no surprise; the character feels like a cliche of the renegade reporter from this very first scene. And yet, Crowe is so alive and attractive in that very first scene, that you don’t think “I get it. He’s old school.” Instead you think, “What a cool guy! I’d like to be in that car with him!” Even in his rumpled flannel shirts and beaten-up windbreaker, Crowe is always charismatic and, frankly, dead sexy.

Mirren is fine and feisty as the (inexplicably British) editor of the Washington Globe, the fictitious newspaper for which Crowe writes. Not surprisingly she make a meal of the role, gloriously bemoaning the “wankers” on her staff who miss out on the kind of juicy stories that sell papers. Mirren is like a shot of adrenaline to the story every time she appears.

The juciest story that Mirren’s reporters aren’t capturing to her satisfaction surrounds the up-and-coming Senator (Ben Affleck) whose high-profile investigation of corporate military contractors is disrupted by the death of young woman on his staff. When it’s revealed that she was the Senator’s mistress, the resulting scandal threatens to derail Affleck’s political ambitions. Mirren wants to print as much titillating dirt as possible to boost the Globe’s anemic circulation figures, but there’s just one problem: her star reporter (Crowe) is not only a stickler for thoughtful, detailed, unsensational reporting, but is also Affleck’s former college roommate and longtime close friend.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As if Crowe’s wrestling with ethical issues weren’t enough to pique your interest, there’s also a parallel investigation into the seemingly unrelated death of a nameless petty thief, ominous rumblings of government and corporate corruption, and the aftermath of Crowe’s affair with Affleck’s wife (Robin Wright Penn) to keep things complicated. Oh, and just to be sure we understand that Crowe is a cranky, old-fashioned kind of journalist, there’s also his reluctant collaboration with a spunky young Capitol Hill blogger(Rachel McAdams) in the pursuit of the facts.

I’m not sure why the filmmakers felt the need to condense a highly acclaimed, six-hour BBC miniseries into a 118-minute theatrical package, but the resulting creation feels as if they bit off considerably more than they could chew. There’s too much plot going on here to allow for any real character development, let alone any serious reflection on the film’s underlying themes of friendship, loyalty, ethics, and the future of print journalism.

As the commercials tell you, there is a surprise twist. But despite what those same commercials promise, you may well see it coming. And even if you don’t, it’s unlikely to sock you in the solar plexus the way a really good plot twist should.


3 Comments so far
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Nevertheless, as you point out in the first paragraph, sounds like a reasonably fun time at the flickers.Thanks for the review!s

Comment by Rick Olson

Pat,Based on my feelings without seeing it, this pretty much sums up exactly what I was thinking.I think someone in a review somewhere said it was a modern day All The President’s Men which piqued my interest a bit, but I felt that if it were, a lot more people would be talking about it. I think I’ll pass on this one and wash down my Diet and Sweettarts with a little Crank 2 action. I think the results will be the same.But let it go on the record that Hellen Miren gets sexier with every year. I think I’ve used I think a lot in this comment.

Comment by PIPER

Rick and Piper -“State of Play” is not a bad movie by any means. There’s certainly plenty of talent there. But it could have been so much more.I find it interesting that so many recent thrillers (this one, “The International” which I found so dull I didn’t even bother to review it), have timely, potentially controversial hooks, but never really reasonate.Anyway, I plan to add the original BBC miniseries to my Netflix queue, which – at the rate I’m going – means I’ll get around to seeing it sometime in 2011.

Comment by Pat

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