Saturday, April 25, 2009

State of Play

"State of Play" is a seriously textbook newspaper thriller. Kevin McDonald doesn't try to get at anything really new here, or well, maybe he does, but the style is too formulaic to elicit anything original. It's got an interesting subject at its core. A congressman named Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is romantically tied with Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer). Baker is part of his inside team, and she gets killed early on in the film. From this point, it seems like this will be what the film is following, but, like the walls of a newspaperman's cubicle, it gets a little complex.

Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), a newspaperman who's the roommate of Collins, is trying to find out how Sonia Baker died and whether or not she had any relation to an organization called... Does it really matter? No. On the case with him is Della Frye, played by Rachel McAdams. She's a hotshot blogger (what else is a blogger?), and she wants to work for McAffrey's newspaper, The Washington Globe. The editor of this newspaper is Helen Mirren, who seems like she's M in a journalistic setting. She interjects constantly and predictably, not offering any real depth. Not that this is that kind of a movie. This is the kind of movie where stuff is pieced together in unfortunately amateurish ways. McAffrey just had to be involved with Collins' wife (Robin Wright Penn). He had to create unnecessary, inconsequential tension, since the rest of the movie kind of lacks that. The organization I previously mentioned, which in case you were really wondering is called PointCorp, becomes a bigger and bigger subject throughout the film. As this happens, the movie gets more and more typical.

There is one great scene, though. This comes courtesy of Jason Bateman, who steals that moment as a crude, Cadillac-driving insider. At the beginning of the film, you are told to be impressed by Crowe, but here, Bateman, even though this is not probably the intention of the screenwriter, is excellent and diverts the attention. This may not be where the film wants to go. In this scene, seriously important and revealing information is passed over. Bateman is a lot more interesting to me than those secrets.

On a technical level, the film is run-of-the-mill. Of course it's pretty well shot, pretty well scripted, and made craftily. Crowe is not as good as he was in "Body of Lies" or "3:10 to Yuma," due to his unfortunate additions of "man" to every conversation between him and Affleck. Affleck is not too bad, and handles his emotions nicely, but he can't really power the movie from the part he's in. McAdams and Mirren are both average. Bateman and Viola Davis (in a 15-20 second appearance) are great, but they have bit parts. They can't hold together a lukewarm but intention-heavy drama. McDonald can't quite bring any real insight either. He makes a intriguing and hooking facade, but when he goes deeper, he can't follow it all up (even though I think TomSpot noted a like of the final shot). B-

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