STATE OF PLAY
Handsome, unflappable U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is the future of his political party, serving as the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending . . . until his research assistant mistress is brutally murdered and secrets come tumbling out. Washington Globe reporter Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) has and old friendship with Collins and his tough editor, Cameron (Helen Mirren), assigns him to investigate, along with Globe blogger, Della (Rachel McAdams). As they try to uncover the killer's identity, McCaffrey steps into a cover-up that threatens to shake the nation's power structures.
Review by Louise Keller:
'Never trust an editor' says the sign. But there should also be signs extending the sentiment to journalists and politicians. Based on an English TV series, this political thriller directed by The Last King of Scotland's Kevin McDonald is about the pursuit of truth at any cost, even when the truth is not what you want to hear. It's about professionalism when personal relationships are involved and when objectivity is swept away in a torrent of good intentions. Legality and morality swirl nebulously and precariously. It's an engrossing tale with fine performances and is at its most enjoyable without too much plot analysis.
It begins with a body in an alley, an accident and a political revelation. Now to the key players. There's Russell Crowe's Cal McAffrey, a messy, long-haired, bourbon-drinking journalist with an instinct to sniff out a good story. Breaking the law? Or damn fine reporting? He is passionate in his view about deadlines, by-lines and ethics, and Crowe delivers damn fine action. His editor is the scene stealing Helen Mirren, whose idea of a big story is the unthinkable, but imminent possible sinking of her beloved newspaper. 'Hungry, cheap and churns out copy every hour' is Rachel McAdams' dewy-eyed cub reporter who is professionally paired with Cal, while Ben Affleck is Stephen Collins, the smooth, high-profile congressman whose past whistles past him - professionally and personally, leaving him vulnerable. Robin Wright-Penn injects an appealing melancholy as the disillusioned wife with her own secrets and Jeff Daniels is a strong presence as the politician who promises that 'the party takes care of its stars'.
The bond of the friendship between Cal and Stephen is a steely, double edged sword: trust is compromised by betrayal. Private security contractors, ex-army personnel and government departments all become involved in kill and cover-up scenarios as the complex plot with its intertwined and knotted relationships play out. There's a tilt of the hat to the print medium and the notion that a pro journalist will always be able to assess the gravitas of a story and differentiate between truth, fabrication and sensationalism.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
How much of the plot of State of Play you believe will depend on your level of cynicism about human nature when corporate greed meets politics. But whether you think the plot is credible or not - and I wouldn't be rashly dismissing it, given all that we know - you have to admire the screenplay for its focus, tension and storytelling prowess. This is a well executed, compelling political thriller with plenty of relevance in today's warring world, where war to some means an opportunity to get very rich. Power and money are always an explosive combination, and if you add romance, it tends to destabilise the characters involved - excellent dramatic potential.
Ben Affleck does destabilised very well as the bright young, well groomed Congressman with a future, who gets a glimpse of the hidden networks of greedy corporate figures who haunt Capitol Hill. Russell Crowe makes a striking contrast as the scruffy journalist, whose lanky hair and tucked out shirt help convey a man less concerned about appearances than about substance. As Cal, he has to balance loyalty in friendship with loyalty in his profession; his motivations are crucial, and our understanding of them important to our response to the film as a whole. Russell can play devious, manipulative characters, as he did in Body of Lies, for example, but he's best at sincerity, strength of purpose and determination - as here.
Rachel McAdams is terrific as Della, the young newspaper journalist who quickly sees Cal's complex psychological situation, and Helen Mirren is thundering as the unashamedly English editor of the Globe, under pressure to make the paper profitable, ready to kill or kiss Cal - depending on his meeting the deadline with the big stories.
Jeff Daniels is unsurprising as the devious Senator and Jason Bateman does well as a colourful character who gets caught up in the big plot, only to find himself far less secure than he thought. Robin Wright Penn gets little screen time but uses it well, as does the menacing Michael Berresse as an ex army grunt.
The film manages to convey the slightly claustrophobic atmosphere of Washington and the pace is neatly handled, with dynamic changes that serve to heighten both interest and tension, right up till the final revelatory twist.
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STATE OF PLAY (M)
CAST: Russell, Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Michael Berresse, Harry Lennix,Viola Davis
PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Andrew Hauptman
DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
SCRIPT: Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray, Matthew Michael Carnahan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rodrigo Prieto
EDITOR: Justine Wright
MUSIC: Alex Heffes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Friedberg
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 28, 2009