Movie Review for State of Play (2009)

(click poster to purchase poster)

State of Play (2009) [PG-13]
W.I.P. Scale™ Rating: $9.75

| Released on: 4/17/2009 | Running Time: 127 minutes |
| official web site | | preview trailer | |coverage of premiere |
| spoiler || 2cOrNot2c |

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland)
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs) and Tony Gilroy (Duplicity) and Billy Ray (Breach) based on the British TV Show “State of Play” written by Paul Abbott
Unsung Member of the Crew: Camera Pa Liz Hinlein

Featured Cast: (where you might remember him/her from)
Russell Crowe (Body of Lies) • Ben Affleck (He's Just Not That Into You) • Rachel McAdams (The Lucky Ones) • Robin Wright Penn (Beowulf) • Jason Bateman (Hancock) • Katy Mixon (Four Christmases) • Viola Davis (Madea Goes to Jail) • Helen Mirren (Inkheart) • Jeff Daniels (Traitor)

Director Kevin Macdonald’s previous film, The Last King of Scotland was an electric affair providing Academy Award®-worthy roles and incredibly insight into the nearly mythologically endowed villainous leader, Edi Amin. Sadly, it’s nearly the opposite with his film adaptation of the popular British television drama “State of Play” titled by the same name. The awkwardly plotted film promises to be one of the year’s top thrillers pitting a veteran investigative news reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), against the unseemly underbelly of Washington, D.C. pay for play politics and the corporations that would seek to control the government. It begins at night, with a long shot of the mall, the Washington Monument gleaming in the distance. A silhouetted figure races as if to escape its captor eventually hiding and subsequently being shot in and amongst an array of garbage cans. A dark assassin ends the silhouette’s life, a young black man named Deshaun Stagg (LaDell Preston), and a drive-by witness – a young pizza delivery guy names Vernon Sando (Dan Brown). The next morning, Cal weaves his aging Saab through the winding streets of Georgetown to the site of the double homicide. He works his charm to pry information from the steely grip of Detective Donald Bell (Harry Lennix) in a scene that’s supposed to illustrate his cleverness if not prowess as a journalist. The scene switches focus toward a young woman racing to get to work via the subway. Then to the office of Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) as he’s informed his lead researcher, Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), on an investigations he’s conducting into the business dealings of a shadowy private security and military company called PointCorp has been mysteriously killed in the subway on the way to work. Several scenes later, as newsmen for McAffrey’s Washington Globe newly owned by a powerful and profit-demanding Media Corp, joke that Congressmen Collins must have been having an affair with Sonja based on his emotional outburst as he announces her death to the press at the start of a Congressional committee meeting. Globe blogjournalist, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) pops into Cal’s cubicle seeking details on Collins whom she’s been informed by Globe publisher, Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), used to be McAffrey’s roommate in college. Thus begins a blossoming association between the two new and old school reporters. Likewise, all of the films major players have been introduced and a careful mind will predict or ascertain most if not all of the film’s secrets or twists save maybe one in short order. This serves as the key to understanding why the film lacks the punch of a more traditional thriller. A great thriller is not predictable. State of Play, written variously by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, and Billy Ray, is constructed, like a Jenga Tower, piece by piece in such a fashion as to have put all the pieces into place without the slightest mishap. Unfortunately, the resulting tower is then there to see or solve. This may have plotted out well in a television series over many months, but it’s nearly anti-climatic in a two-hour film. The plot won’t be spoiled further here, you’ll have to read the spoiler if you crave a complete exposé. Suffice if for now to suggest that if you haven’t already figured out the entire plot from the clues here, maybe you will enjoy the film after all.

... if you haven’t already figured out the entire plot from the clues here, maybe you will enjoy the film after all.
Another fault in the film rises on the lack of true depth to the characters. This gives the brilliant Russell Crowe little with which to work – perhaps his worst role ever – time for a reboot, new agent, the whole nine yards in his case. Likewise, one need not look far past the character’s name, Della Frye, to size up the lack of meat in Rachel McAdams’s role. As bad as these characters are, even they stand above that of Stephen Collins and the lackluster portrayal by Ben Affleck – who had better hope he doesn’t run into Woody Harrelson whom, of late, has had trouble telling real people from zombies. Poor Helen Mirren finds herself in the “Lou Grant” role for the fictional Washington Globe only worse, she has to contend with nameless, faceless corporations who would reduce her character to seeking trash if not pure hype for the front page, anything to sell newspapers. Things take a monumental downhill slide, however, when the aforementioned assassin, Robert Bingham (Michael Berresse) suddenly becomes a main character and the excellent sleuthing skills of Frye leads them to Dominic Foy, a PR man who proves a guy will do almost anything for his dream car played in smarmy fashion by poorly cast Jason Bateman. Curiously, though, he doesn’t seem that out of his league.

If you were prepared to love this film based on the trailer and the cast, stay home...
If you were prepared to love this film based on the trailer and the cast, stay home, or put your money down on the light-hearted comedy 17 Again instead. You won’t be sorry. While the ending of State of Play does tie up all loose ends – hooray no need for a sequel – it’s as cynical and depressingly bland as the rest of the film. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, Jeff Daniels is in the film as Rep. George Fergus. Now you know you don’t need to bother.

No comments: