Thursday, April 30, 2009

No playing around in ‘State of Play’

‘State of Play’ – the new thriller from Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) is set in the gritty world of backroom political intrigue amid the backdrop of the dying newspaper industry. In it we have old school newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey, played with ink stained gusto by Russell Crowe, growling through the tombs of the Washington Globe pursuing stories with pen in hand and a 16 year old computer buried somewhere beneath his paper littered desk. Bearded, overweight, his hair greasy and far too long, Crowe is far from his ‘Gladiator’ days here, throwing himself fully into the role – that of a reporter who is himself, an honest man – take him as he is; nothing more.

McAffrey finds himself in the middle of a political conspiracy when the aid to Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck in a surprisingly good performance – who knew that Affleck could actually act) falls to her death on the subway tracks. It is soon discovered that the aid and the married Collins are involved in an affair. Adding to the complications – it turn out that Collins, McAffrey and Collins’ wife (the always talented Robin Wright Penn) went to college together where Collins and McAffrey were roommates and, apparently – the future Mrs. Collins and McAffrey once slept together. As one can imagine, journalistic dilemmas abound for McAffrery, the honest man.

Crowe growls and cowers his way through this meaty role with ease. He his well suited for the earthy reporter type whose fingers are stained with ink and pockets are stuffed with pens and paper; more like the reporters of old, chasing leads, staying one step ahead of the police and in this case the corporate killers who stand to benefit from large government contracts. There is one scene in particular staged in a parking garage that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Cal is paired with a young Washington Globe blogger, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) who is initially more interested in the sexual dirt of the situation than the real story. Cal proceeds to take Del under his wing, teaching her ‘damn fine reporting’ – his way is slow, methodical but the pace of the film is not. The piecing together of the information is always intriguing and the plot is filled with intricacies. The relationship between Del and Cal is natural; the characters work well together, even without the hint of romance.

‘State of Play’ is based on the BBC mini-series of the same name; a six-part series that you can catch on BBC America if you dare – while far meatier than the American version, the American ‘State of Play’ does live up to the potential of the original. There is no playing around here – this is one political thriller that is worth the trip to the theater.
4 Stars.

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