Sunday, July 5, 2009

Film Review: State of Play (2009)

As expected after his previous first three memorable films, director Kevin McDonald has put together a technically flawless looking picture with State of Play. One with great performances and a script that at first, I worried might suffer from having too many cooks (it has three credited writers). Couple this with the fact that it is an American interpretation of an already well-respected BBC mini-series. It is relieving to report that the writing is re-soundly excellent considering that the subject matter could have potentially become derivative. The details of chasing leads and deadlines amongst a busy, yet struggling major newspaper for example, was shown believably and grippingly. Perhaps not on the level of similar themed films, it stands up well by having a substantial modern theme of online based “new-media” competing with the once leading edge print standard. Happily, the film flies the flag defiantly for the latter, with both insight and humour.

Working as a reporter for The Washington Globe, reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) sets out to a routine murder victim headline, but as more facts start to manifest, a much bigger story begins to unfold of a political cover-up involving defence force distributors, corrupt senators and even more murders. One of the main ideas behind State of Play however, is the parallels that appear between Cal’s handling of a hugely expanding conspiracy story and a police investigation. “It’s not a story! It’s a case”, Cal is abruptly told by the chief detective at one point. Nevertheless, Cal is determined for the same objective - the truth. The tension unfolds subtly with a nice cat and mouse sequence at the centre making it less a droning ‘talky’ as it is a gripping thriller with constant, finely realised twists. Kevin MacDonald knows this genre well and hardly falters bringing the script to life.

Ben Affleck as Senator Stephen Collins at the centre of all the interest suits his role and played it as well as one could have expected; straight laced with few extrovert qualities. Helen Mirren’s newspaper boss shines through with little to do and representing the new age of ‘blog reporting’, Rachel McAdams’ Della Frye counters Crowe’s McAffrey surprisingly well. Russ is top flight as always, proving that his ability to inhabit a man and all that makes him tick, makes him almost second to none within his generation of performers. Robin Wright-Penn channels her real-to-life wife scorned experiences with not surprising ease, adding weight to the supporting cast alongside small but pivotal roles from Jeff Daniels and Jason Bateman.

With such written films however, genre rules always tend to appear and even though the revelatory ending did not feel worse or better for the film, I might have been more satisfied if a reasonable, but rushed extra twist at the eleventh hour wasn't thrown in. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed despite thinking it doesn’t quite match McDonald's outstandingly tense Last King of Scotland. It is easily one of the best films of 2009 so far and as a film for adults goes, it’s a damn fine entertainment.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review!
    I was nodding along to your comments and I have to agree, I was thinking along the same lines when I first saw this.
    I enjoyed seeing the clashes of characters values.
    "It's not a story, it's a case!" is, like you said, a direct quote highlighting the two different prerogatives of the central characters, capturing both the inner and exterior cat and mouse chases between crook and crime, and crime and the media.
    I also agree with the story. I too, was afraid that I'd be sitting through 2hours of talking heads that would just tell me the story and not show it.
    Fortunately, I was saved such a fate when I witnessed a tight knit, fast paced story that was plotted with characters with contrasting motives.
    Having Cal as a bit of grimey has-been who drives a fall apart car, and eats tins of bachelor chow for dinner was a fine, if not predictable juxtaposition to Affleck's prim and proper Collins. But such a relationship was not only political and professional, but a personal one aswell, adding to the tension. There was more to lose in this case.
    I enjoyed this alot. I thought the story was executed in a tough, succinct way, with all bases covered and questions answered - no matter how immoral the practices to derive such truths.