By Ted Faraone
Rated: PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content.
Release Date: 2009-04-17
Starring: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy
Official Website: http://www.stateofplaymovie.net/
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There is something about seeing a bloated overweight, unkempt Russell Crowe that makes one cringe – and put down that black and white cookie. He’d have done well to follow Shelley Winters’ famous advice about playing fat roles. However, Crowe’s weight is not what goes awry in “State of Play,” a crime thriller from helmer Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”), although being fat does not add much to his character as Cal McAffrey, a reporter at the “Washington Globe”.
Until the final reel, “State of Play” (based on an eponymous BBC Television series), has all the makings of a well made film noire: Bad weather, dark lighting, ominous music, more plot twists than a back road in Connecticut, and corruption in places high and low. Why, there are even three murder attempts in the first reel, two of them successful. Until the final reel the storyline fits together like a well crafted jigsaw puzzle. It has an excellent cast: Helen Mirren as foul-mouthed newspaper editor Cameron Lynne, Ben Affleck as philandering congressman Stephen Collins, Robin Wright Penn as his wife, Jeff Daniels as the House Majority Whip, and Jason Bateman as a sleazy, not too bright PR man, each playing his part to perfection. Rachel McAdams is convincing as a newspaper blogger who earns her reporting stripes solving a string of four seemingly unrelated murders in a buddy-film subplot opposite Crowe.
Pic opens with a drug addict running from a gunman (Michael Berresse) who catches and kills him. He also shoots a pizza delivery man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then the mistress of Congressman Collins, whose committee is investigating the “mercenary” private army on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, dies mysteriously underneath the wheels of the Washington Metro. All roads lead to a vast conspiracy with 30 or 40 billion Dollars at stake for the company hoping to profit from the privatization of homeland security at its center. Crowe’s McAffrey is hot on the trail as dead bodies pile up. He is also dispensing PR advice to his college roommate, Affleck’s Collins. Subplots appear to spin out of control but each peels a layer from pic’s onion – until the final reel, that is, when a surprise ending both confuses audiences and leaves unresolved the biggest plot element, the conspiracy and the company at its center – is it real or a red herring?
Blame in this case has to be shared. Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, and Billy Ray deserve a major chunk. But many a bad screenplay has been fixed in the edit room. Take that, Justine Wright. And one has to ask just how much control Macdonald had over the final cut. At 127 minutes, it’s not as if the picture had to be fleshed out to feature length. It coulda been a contender….
“State of Play,” distributed in the US by Universal, carries a PG-13 rating, largely due to Mirren’s lines. Other than that there is little objectionable for children. But not even adults have a chance of making sense out of it.