'State of Play' Riveting State of the Art Political Thriller

April 16, 2009 – At a time when the fate of print newspapers is in imminent peril, "State of Play," shows what a crack investigative journalist can do in what critics are calling a "riveting state of the art political film, exciting and twisty."
"This thriller is a bellows designed to puff up the most beaten-down reporter's chest, says J. Hoberman in the Village Voice. It is compressed from the highly regarded BBC miniseries first telecast in 2003.
Hoberman says the film is a "effectively involving journalism-cum-conspiracy yarn with a bang-bang opening and a frantic closer. There are more than a few loose ends left hanging when the case slams shut, but it all makes sense, at least until you have a moment to think about it."
Todd McCarthy in Variety asks, "Will this movie be the last feature film to commemorate the physical printing and shipping of a big-city daily newspaper (as it does in almost ennobling fashion behind the end credits)?" He adds, "Is this also the last gasp for movies about crusading journalists, a tradition dating back to the early '30s?" Let's hope not.
"Whatever the answers," McCarthy says. "this efficient, admirably coherent thriller about reporters digging down to where politics and murder meet in Washington, D.C., has a wistful air about it as regards the fourth estate at a time when the profession is dangling by a thread."
A rising congressman, Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), and an investigative journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) are embroiled in a case of seemingly unrelated, brutal murders.
All eyes are on Collins to be his party's contender for the upcoming presidential race. Until his research assistant/mistress is brutally murdered and buried secrets come tumbling out.
Musing on the story, Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel says, "Reporter Cal suspects there's more to this death than a simple DC subway suicide. His rattled onetime pal, Collins, seems to catch on, too. Maybe this Blackwater-ish defense contractor that is being investigated by Collins is to blame."
McAffrey reluctantly brings in the Washington Globe's fresh-faced and snarky new political blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) on the story. (Nonetheless, it must be said that Della Frye is a great name for a reporter.)
The story grows ever more complex with a top-notch cast including Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman and Jeff Daniels, to say nothing of Helen Mirren as Cameron Lynne, McAffrey's unforgiving editor.
Moore says the movie is "as dense as a Watergate era newspaper and as immediate as a blog, [it] is an absolutely riveting state-of-the-art 'big conspiracy' thriller. It's an often brilliant collision of political scandal, murder, a privatizing military and the rapidly evolving journalism that may (or may not) remain democracy's watchdog once newspapers, 'instant history,' are rendered history by a culture that has abandoned them."
Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times has this take on Crowe's McAffrey: "All the cops and most of the people on Capitol Hill seem to know him; he's one of those instinctive newsmen who connects the dots so quickly that a 127-minute movie can be extracted from a six-hour BBC miniseries. This keeps him so occupied that he has little time for grooming, and doesn't seem to ever wash his lanky hair."
Ebert says Crowe stepped into the role after Brad Pitt dropped out. "Pitt, I suspect," Ebert says, "would have looked more clean-cut, but might not have been as interesting as a scruffy hero in a newspaper movie that is acutely aware of the crisis affecting newspapers."
It is directed by Kevin Macdonald, ("Last King of Scotland")with the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray.
It starts Thursday at Market Square East. It runs one hour 58 minutes, and is rated PG 13 for some violence, language, including sexual references and brief drug content

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