Spoilers ahead: No
Alas, we get a movie about conspiratorial/political corruption that succeeds in maintaining credibility and in being entertaining at the same time! State of Play succeeds where The International fails in that State of Play’s storyline is believable, and better than that, the film’s steady leaking out of incriminating facts draws fascination rather than a dreary sense of “Oh, now they just want to confuse us!”
Russell Crowe is Cal McAffrey, a veteran journalist investigating four local murders, one of them the “other woman” of McAffrey’s old friend and roommate, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). A firestorm of media coverage is ablaze, and Collins is getting roasted. McAffrey is eventually teamed up with a number of reporters to cover portions of the ever-growing case, including Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a rookie journalist who wants to make it big. As the two push legal boundaries to get to the deepening well of questionable motives and black bag ties to shady corporations, the job is angry with them for not getting something in print. The police are breathing down their necks as well, and beneath all of that is a love affair between McAffrey and Stephen Collins’ wife Ann (Robin Wright Penn), which only complicates things further.
Crowe’s “I can play any part in the world” adaptability is never more noticeable. This is, without a doubt, one of the best performances of Ben Affleck’s career (he ceases to carry around that goofy-looking kid smirk that makes him look like he’s about to shoot spit-wads in a high school cafeteria). Jeff Daniels is Senator George Fergus. His role as a distant-but-connected figurehead adds dimension to a ripe story.
Though sometimes riding a bit heavily on the meat and potatoes of journalistic work, it backs off before boredom can set in. The search for facts, although at times tedious, never spills over into becoming uninteresting. Crowe’s scruffy, leftwing, non-conformist look fits the reporter he plays. Selected well was the background lighting, always careful to match the mood of the film. Best of all is the “rev” of the plot, which doesn’t fade, but advances, growing closer to the truth right through to the end.
What State of Play is light on is action-driven suspense and perhaps a sense of lightheartedness (read: time away from work) as a break from the plot-focused intensity. This, however, should come as a request on the part of some rather than as a criticism by all. Director MacDonald is concerned with the logistics of the story and is careful not to bend credibility until it breaks—having journalists dodge bullets and return fire is not in their job description, nor is it what we should expect to see!
I once wrote an article entitled “When The Stars Get Too Big.” In it, I addressed the tendency of certain movies (*ahem* Oceans 13, etc.) to flaunt a star cast until it becomes obvious that what is being watched is a prestige pageant, and not something that requires acting skill. In State of Play, you have – lo and behold – actors earning their keep, absorbing their talents in becoming the characters whose names and traits they wear.
State of Play is polished with every scene fitting in, leaving no painfully unanswered questions or feelings of melancholy. Among political thrillers, it steps up to take its place in a genre where the power of having a high position is often flaunted, but this one is different. It flaunts that the truth will come out. Truth has a way of doing that!
Grade: A- (4 stars)
Summation: A team of journalists headed up by Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) follows an ever-darkening path of corruption and murder.
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Starring: Russell Crowe “Cal McAffrey,” Ben Affleck “Rep. Stephen Collins,” Rachel McAdams “Della Frye,” Helen Mirren “Cameron Lynne,” Robin Wright Penn “Anne Collins,” Jason Bateman “Dominic Foy,” Jeff Daniels “Senator George Fergus,” Michael Berresse “Robert Bingham,” Harry Lennix “Det. Donald Bell,” Josh Mostel “Pete,” Michael Weston “Hank”
Genre: Thriller / Drama / Crime