State of Play
dir Kevin Macdonald
scr Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray
with Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, Michael Berresse, Harry Lennix, Josh Mostel, Michael Weston, Viola Davis
release US 17.Apr.09, UK 24.Apr.09
09/US Universal 2h05
State of Play
It's a jungle out there: Crowe and McAdams

affleck mirren penn
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
State of Play Although it's overcomplicated and ramped up with action scenes, this journalism-meets-politics thriller (based on the BBC series) has a smart script, a terrific cast and a skilled director who's able to hold everything together.

Cal McAffrey (Crowe) is a seasoned Washington DC reporter working on two stories: an apparent drug-related murder in the streets and the mysterious death of a woman who was having an affair with Cal's friend Stephen (Affleck), a married Congressman. When Cal begins to suspect that the two stories are related, he teams with young reporter Della (McAdams) to dig into what could be a massive conspiracy. Although their editor (Mirren) isn't so sure.

With so many plot strands and far-reaching implications, the film feels unruly--too much be contained on screen. But by blurring the lines between what's a news story and what's a police case, it begins to make some serious points about politics and the media, all while tightening the screws of a ripping thriller. Ethics and morality are the big issues here, which makes it much more resonant than the usual mindless villain plotline.

And the heavyweight cast is excellent. Crowe plays Cal as yet another scruffy, seasoned hack with a nose for a story and everyone in town in his contacts book. Affleck is more interesting as the compromised politician, although we're unsure why they're friends in the first place. Wright Penn strong in her few scenes as Stephen's strained wife, Bateman is terrific in a small but pivotal role, and Mirren steals the show with her tough-as-nails editor who wants to run the story but knows that her first job is to sell newspapers.

As it progresses, the story struggles through a couple of unlikely revelations and twists, as well as an indulgence in emotional scenes. But the script is packed with razor-sharp dialog and a clever exploration of a morally ambiguous situation. Macdonald corrals all of this into a thriller that has rare intelligence, keeping it pacey and busy, with an underlying creepiness that keeps us on our toes. He also beautifully puts the relationships at the centre of the plot, making it the kind of thriller that engages our both our hearts and minds.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Apr.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall