Saturday, April 25, 2009

Movie review: State of Play

This former BBC series turned into an American feature film provides some interesting parallels to real life in its portrayal of political intrigue and corruption in the wake of the current war on terror. A decent group of actors, led by Russel Crowe as a grizzled veteran reporter who woefully awaits the demise of the print media to make way for more viral "blog based" Internet news, does a good job of moving the plot forward believably. He is paired up with Rachel McAdams, the cub reporter who represents the future of news via blog gossip journalism.

There is no romantic spark between the two, just a mentor relationship that works for the most part despite questions of how realistic it would actually be. The love interest in the film (if you can call her that) is the beautiful Robin Wright Penn, whose turn as a tortured politician's wife is worth the price of admission. The other part of the Penn-Crowe triangle is Ben Affleck, who plays an ambitious and talented rising star in congress, despite his shaky marriage and lack of any friends besides the slovenly hippy-dippy reporter played by Crowe. (By the way, it was kind of nice to see a sloppy overweight Crowe in this role after he made so many men feel inferior with his cut physique years ago in "Gladiator.")

Without giving anything away, the plight of the modern newspaper business and the controversy over privatizing war (read: Blackwater) are examined and the ethical, moral, and political questions pondered in the film give the audience some decent substance to chew on. I have to also note how much I enjoy watching Jason Bateman, who plays a sleazy, morally and sexually ambiguous Washington D.C. PR guy. Whether Bateman is playing drama for laughs (as he did in "Juno"), comedy (TV's "Arrested Development), or straight up drama (as he does here) he's always a joy to watch.

"State of Play" has shades of a modern "All the President's Men" without the level of drama or story of that film, but still achieves what it sets out to do. In a side note, as a former newspaperman, I felt that the end title sequence showing the newspaper making its way from filed story to printing press all the way to the delivery truck felt like a fitting epitath to the current state of the industry I grew to love during my time there.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention there's also adultery, murder, and possibly a plot twist? And that Helen Mirren plays the newspaper editor? I still haven't figured out how a Brit became editor of a major U.S. newspaper in our nation's capitol with an Australian for her star reporter, but I still give "State of Play" three by-lines out of five.

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