Congressman Stephen Collins is the rising star of his political party - until his research assistant/mistress is murdered and buried secrets come tumbling out. Investigative journalist Cal McCaffrey has the dubious fortune of both an old friendship with Collins and a ruthless editor, Cameron who assigns him to story. As Cal and his partner Della step into a cover-up that threatens to shake the nation’s power structures, they discover one truth: when billions of dollars are at stake, no one’s integrity, love or life is safe.
Beneath the surface, politics can be downright dirty and scheming, a stark contrast to all the glossy reports published or motivational speeches flashing on television you encounter daily. That is if you believe this superbly craft thriller from The Last King of Scotland’s helmer, Kevin McDonald.
The movie opens with the murders of a drug junkie, a pizza delivery man and Sonia Baker, the lead researcher of Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) who is in the midst of investigating PointCorp, a private defense contractor. Three seemingly unrelated deaths until Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) who is Collins’s roommate in college decides to investigate further revealing unexpected details, links and puzzles along the way.
State of Play is very much a talky movie. With the exception of a few gunshots, it doesn’t feature exhilarating car chase or explosions visually speaking to hold your attention. If you have been following the works of scribers Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Peter Morgan (The Queen) and Billy Ray (Shattered Glass), you know these are the guys that are capable of churning engaging conversational pieces and mind-blogging suspense. The structure of the story is loosely adapted from a six-part BBC television series of the same name. I didn’t get to watch the original so I can’t confirm how much of it was condensed into this 127 minutes movie. Then again, the scribers should be commended for faithfully following the same theme and issue despite the number of rewrites.
What make it even more interesting are the cast members. The list reads on like an invitation list to an awards ceremony. Besides Crowe and Affleck, Helen 'The Queen' Mirren plays the head of Washington Globe Cameron Lynne, an iron lady who is much fired up about the circulation than the integrity of the paper. Rachel McAdams pairs off the McAffrey character with ease as Della Frye, a blogger with the papers’ online division, Jason Bateman as a flamboyant publicist and also notable names such as Robin Wright Penn and Jeff Daniels. But nobody beats the leading man, Russell Crowe who is famous for his prima-donna ways off-camera shines as the unkempt but brilliant reporter. He has proven he can hold the sword in Gladiator and here, a conscious and objective reporter armed with his pen who wants nothing but the whole gospel truth.
This is a movie that warrants a clear mind and thinking cap to follow as the script touches on contemporary political subjects, journalism and relationship issues without sacrificing the basic need of entertaining the audience. Sample the numerous exchanges between Lynne and McAffrey, they alone are worth the price of the DVD. To conclude, "State of Play" is one of the few political theme thrillers that actually serve up a fair balance between pure popcorn entertainment and smart story-telling.
For such an excellent movie, the extras are a bit miserly. Deleted Scenes which last 3 minutes consist of two scenes which are disposable. The Making of State of Play is an 18 minutes featurette which consist of interviews with the cast and crew, could be a little more detailed and longer though.
All thanks to the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the ambient effects are rich and active. Dialogue is of extreme crisp quality which is a priority here. Visually, it got that cool, distant look. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto talks about using traditional camera, high-definition camera and handheld shots during the making-of although a novice like me didn’t notice any major differences.
Review by Linus Tee
Posted on 11 September 2009