State of Play
Details: (M), 117 mins, United States, English
Synopsis: Set amidst the highest echelons of power, Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) is a street-wise reporter whose friendship with a powerful politician is tested when the politician's young advisor is killed by falling in front of a train. When McCaffrey discovers that the two were involved in an adulterous affair and evidence emerges that she might have in fact been murdered, a complex web of intrigue begins to unfold.
A smart, tense political thriller.
Sometimes, just every now and then, Hollywood says to itself “None of us are rocket scientists; let’s just do what we do best and do it as best as we can.” It is from this mindset that smart, enjoyable films like Mickey Rourke’s Year Of The Dragon (1985), Kevin Costner’s No Way Out (1987) or Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive (1993) are created.
Director Kevin McDonald’s State Of Play takes its place very comfortably within this oeuvre – a style of filmmaking that, with respect for the broad audience in mind, embraces the conventions of the thriller genre but refuses to dilute the plot line to pander to the lowest expectations.
Russell Crowe (a last-minute replacement for Brad Pitt) plays Cal McAffrey, an old-school journo with a long-time friend in high places – Republican Senator Stephen Collins (a trim and terrific Ben Affleck). When a member of Collins’ staff gets offed in mysterious circumstances, the truth comes out: she was his mistress, and soon all hell breaks loose. Collins’ mentor George Fergus (Jeff Daniels) manoeuvres to cover up his indiscretions; his wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn) reluctantly takes his place beside him at press conferences.
McAffrey is assigned to uncover the nitty-gritty of the story, and is partnered with blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), an online guru who represents the new face of journalism that may ultimately cost traditional print journos like Cal their jobs. Pulling the strings is Editor-in-chief Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), under pressure from new corporate overlords whose interests stretch all the way to – you guessed it – Republican Senator Stephen Collins.
Phew! It is a solid, multi-layered Hollywood thriller construct that all involved play to the hilt, especially a ballsy, breezy Crowe, and McAdams, who seems both awed and inspired into taking on the might of her co-star.
The mysterious plot is compelling but what lingers afterwards are the complex the themes in the script from writers Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity) and Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions For Lambs). Story strands that succinctly embrace friendship, professional integrity, duty and honour imbue and ignite almost every scene and character trait in State Of Play. When the darting eyes of these nervous characters meet, the audience senses the significance. It is a beautifully pitched film that understands the nuances of personality and the weight of accountability that accompanies public profile (be it journalistic, political or personal).
That it is essentially a pulpish, B-movie thriller may ultimately rob State Of Play of some weight with both local critics and audiences (it got a lukewarm response from both sectors in the U.S.) but it’s a slick, smart, cracking piece of entertainment. Go in with a clear head and open mind and the film’s twisting, turning narrative will enthral.
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