Monday, September 14, 2009

State of Play (2009)

Movie quotes:
"You have your show horses and you have your work horses; I’m sure we can all find a way to get along."
- Rep. George Fergus (Jeff Daniels) to Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck)

At a glance:
Headed by an understated, effective performance by Russell Crowe, State of Play’s robust, top-shelf cast creates an intriguing political thriller that ultimately fails under the weight of one twist too many

Our review (with spoilers):
Washington-based investigative reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) looks disorganized, and is often late for a deadline, but he’s almost detective-like in his approach to a story. He’s connected with the police and the coroner’s office. His clothes, demeanor, and car are similar to another investigator named Columbo. His college friend Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), who is now a Congressman, is in big trouble. The pretty young staff member that he fell in love with (and neglected his wife for) is dead. Collins heads a congressional committee investigating Pointcore, a multi-billion dollar defense contractor that stands to lose a lot if their business interests are curtailed. Collins asks McCaffrey for help; McCaffrey agrees, although he sees Collins as both a friend and a ‘story’. Competing against McCaffrey is the up and coming blogger, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). Frye and McCaffrey learn to work together and to pull back the cover on a story that keeps growing and getting more convoluted and interconnected.

State of Play steams along beautifully for two-thirds of its running time, building intersecting emotional relationships and a web of political intrigue. Then, suddenly, the human element is dropped, and the final 30 minutes feature Crowe dashing around, servicing the plot and its multitude of needless twists. Eventually, every single major character either reveals a dark side or has a saint-like epiphany, as can only happen in a Hollywood film. Character development is dropped and a tied-up Hollywood ending is contrived. This film did not build to its conclusion; it built its conclusion.

Before these unfortunate missteps, however, State of Play features a fantastic cast at the top of their game. Crowe is unafraid to share screen time and lines, and to speak softly and carry a big pen. Rachel McAdams is sufficiently beautiful and intriguing until her character is given short shrift toward the end. Helen Mirren turns up her obnoxious factor to play the hard-nosed newspaper editor; Jason Bateman (always a pleasure to see) is a delightfully sleazy PR guy.

Rating:  2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"The film held me a fair way in, because it's well paced and the actors are competent. But finally, the plot took one or two big twists too far."
- Julie Rigg (MovieTime, ABC Radio National)

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