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Movie Review - 'State of Play'

State of Play

Starring Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, and Helen Mirren
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Rated PG-13

stateofplayposter.jpg State of Play asks fascinating questions about whom and what the news media serve. Major corporations own plenty of daily metropolitan newspapers and those corporations answer to stockholders. Many of those stockholders, in turn, run the companies that make the news. So is it truth above all or truth above all but a few?

The 21st century brings new issues into the news room with the sometimes uncomfortable marriage between traditional investigative journalism and an online headline-chomping animal that operates in the statusphere.

Both of these concerns fire State of Play out of the gate like a can’t-miss thoroughbred; it’s immediately smarter than most of its contemporaries and the dialogue between Washington Globe newsroom vet Cal McCaffery (Russell Crowe) and his online adversary, the fresh-faced Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), bleeds sarcasm and grit.

But the film stops paying attention to its central characters and shifts to the story they’re covering, a possible murder and cover-up inside the Beltway involving a senator (Ben Affleck) who goes way back with McCaffrey. And if there are questions about whether or not the news is too subservient to the companies pulling the strings, surely questions will arise about how far a reporter might go to protect a powerful friend.

You know the film gets sidetracked because you miss the give and take between Crowe and McAdams about the state of journalism, which gains extra gravity with editor Helen Mirren straddling the line between convictions and commerce. But the great newspaper stuff, the likes of which we haven't seen much of lately, becomes the window dressing to the whodunit, which is only interesting because of the way the journalists feel duty-bound to investigate it.

For about 80 minutes or so, State of Play pulses with the kind of energy not seen very often today. Like Michael Clayton, it’s a throwback to the more intellectual political thrillers of the 1970s. It's no coincidence that this film is co-written by Clayton writer-director Tony Gilroy. Gilroy writes terrific dialogue, and there's plenty of that here, and in the hands of good actors, the right words make their jobs that much easier and convincing.

But director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) raises the curtain on too many twists, does so too quickly at the end of the film, and some of those twists are at best inconsequential. Knowing it’s catering to a smart crowd, State of Play tries too hard to keep you guessing, creating phony conflict instead of sticking with the real tension that gets you hooked in the first place.

Reader Comments (2)

This is more a comment/question than review...
And it's kinda late coming. I just finished watching the film, via cable premium channel, about a year after the film opened in theatres.
I must have (subconsciously) enjoyed the film because I caught it while channel surfing and ended up hanging around till the end. That probably had something to do with Russel Crowe, I enjoy the majority of his work.
However, I was distracted by the overwhelming Hoffman-like mannerisms ("All the Presidents Men") Crowe's character displayed in "State of Play".
Here's the question… was an alternate ending shot for the film? I ask because in the last scene in while Crowe's character sits in his office typing the story he "chased" throughout the film there's a cut to the article/story and it says the police found the gunman in his apartment dead from an obvious self inflicted wound and a rifle laying near him....?
I didn't watch the film via DVD (which might include alternate endings) so I tried finding out online with no luck.
Was there an alternate ending or did the writer change the ending after the scene I mentioned was shot?

Friday, November 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHChandler

In the original State of Play, which was a 6-part series on British telly, the ending was more reasonable, but since the American version focuses on the reporter (Russell Crowe) beyond all else, the ending seems tacked-on, unlike its British source.

Saturday, November 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterGet The Big Picture

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