When the research assistant to brash young House member Stephen Collins (Affleck) dies in a mysterious accident, the press has a field day with the politician's possible adultery. Naturally, the Washington Globe and its crack staff, including reporter Cal McCaffrey (Crowe), blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), and editor Cameron Lynne (Mirren), are exploring every angle. But there's a catch. You see, McCaffrey and Collins were college roommates, and they've maintained a strong friendship ever since. They've even shared the affections of the Congressman's current wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn).
When a link is established between the aide, the death of a junkie, a metal briefcase full of incriminating photos, a hyper PR agent named Dominic Foy (Jason Bateman), and the military contractor Pointcorp, it seems like a clear case of influence via strongarm tactics. But McCaffrey knows better than to believe the cover story. Instead, he wants to dig deeper, to expose the truth once and for all and clear his friend's name -- if he can.
When you look over the credits of State of Play, you instantly see the problem with the film. Any work that features the competing ideas of screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs, The Kingdom), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, the Bourne trilogy), and Billy Ray (Breach, Flightplan), is going to end up suffering from "too many cooks" syndrome. It's not that the plot offered is so complicated as to lose the audience. Instead, State of Play purposefully keeps simplifying things to the point where most seasoned filmgoers can guess what's coming next before it even happens.
The clues are obvious. Affleck putting on airs of authority and control? He's destined for a fall. Crowe continually picking on newbie McAdams? They'll become partners. A Halliburton like company trying to corner the market on U.S. security contracts? They'll be overloaded with ex-military men eager to play assassin. Perhaps had the film been turned over to someone with a clearer track record in the genre, such obviousness would work. But Kevin Macdonald, the documentarian turned feature filmmaker (The Last King of Scotland) is new to the whole "edge of your seat" thing. He's good with actors, great with location, but lacking in creating a sense of dread. We never fear for anyone here, not even when a poorly-defined killer with a cartoonish scowl starts stalking our stars.
Carried over six separate hours, like the BBC original, this material would have a chance to sink in and strengthen. Instead, we wind up with a serviceable entertainment that never makes a strong cinematic statement. Crowe does good disheveled media Messiah, while Affleck and Mirren have their own strong scenes. McAdams is more or less lost, and the last act arrival of Bateman as a slimeball seems wildly out of place. As with any translation, originality gets lost in the desire to adapt. State of Play is not bad. In fact, it's quite good. But one can't help but feel that there is something great trapped inside this by-the-book potboiler.
Affleck makes the heart grow fonder.
Run time: 127 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th April 2009
Box Office USA: $37.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $87.8M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Working Title Films, Andell Entertainment, Relativity Media, StudioCanal
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 172 Rotten: 33
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey, Ben Affleck as Stephen Collins, Rachel McAdams as Della Frye, Helen Mirren as Cameron Lynne, Robin Wright as Anne Collins, Jason Bateman as Dominic Foy, Jeff Daniels as Senator George Fergus, Michael Berresse as Robert Bingham, Harry Lennix as Det. Donald Bell, Josh Mostel as Pete, Michael Weston as Hank, Barry Shabaka Henley as Gene Stavitz, Viola Davis as Dr. Judith Franklin, David Harbour as PointCorp Insider, Gregg Binkley as Ferris, Sarah Lord as Mandi Brokaw
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