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State of Play Rewards A Hard-Working Viewer

Cornelius Rogers | Monday, April 20, 2009

Journalism. Politics. Murder. Conspiracy. Watergate. No, “All the President’s Men” was not re-released in theaters. Rather, the thriller “State of Play” opened this weekend. The film delivers a complex plot rife with the suspense of D.C. politics, journalism, and of course, murder. As if the suspenseful plot wasn’t enough, the film packs an all-star cast. Newer stars, such as Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman, hold their own alongside big names, such as Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Ben Affleck and Robin Wright Penn. The film’s complex plot and excellent acting are sure to give viewers a lot of bang for their buck. Coming to the foreground of the film is Cal McAffrey, played by Russell Crowe. Cal is a seasoned veteran reporter who is interested in only one thing – getting the real story out there. To this end, he will overcome any legal or ethical obstacles, including taping a source without their knowledge. Method actor Russell Crowe fully immerses his persona into the role of Cal. His disheveled hair and the weight he put on for the role are likely to convince viewers that he is long past his physical prime. Partnered alongside Cal is Della Frye, played by Rachel McAdams. She is an online political blogger, which Cal, whose loyalty is to the printed page, refers to as “online upchuck.” Ms. McAdams is quite convincing as an older woman, partly due to her character’s older name, and partly due to her acting talent. While the film’s plot itself delivers many surprises, another surprise is the great chemistry between Crowe and McAdams. The two actors portray a fierce dualism. Old vs. New. Journalism vs. Blogging. And of course, Man vs. Woman. The odd thing about their chemistry is that there is no sexual tension whatsoever. The fact that the film does not fall into this cliché romantic plotline is refreshing. However, the writers cannot help themselves when Cal has an affair with the wife of his best friend, Stephen Collins (played by Ben Affleck). Affleck’s acting is noteworthy. He does a fairly convincing job as the passionate Congressman set on dismantling a malicious defense contractor. But his acting can be a tad overdramatic at times. Nevertheless, he has certainly outgrown the days of “Paycheck” and “Daredevil.”On the other side of the camera, the film is directed by Kevin Macdonald (of “Last King of Scotland” fame). Its three writers are pros when it comes to the subject of politics and conspiracy. The film is written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (“Lions for Lambs”), Tony Gilroy (The “Bourne” trilogy and “Michael Clayton”) and Billy Ray (“Breach”). Unlike most films that take place in Washington D.C., the film does not deliver a one-sided political message. Instead it offers a glimpse at the dark side of journalism, with reporters who will violate several laws and ethical codes, including withholding evidence from the police, to get to the bottom of a story. But the reporters are not the only ones to blame because they are under pressure from newspaper owners who are solely interested in making a profit. (Oddly enough these owners never appear in the film.) Rounding out the cabal, there are Congressmen with varying agendas investigating the shadowy dealings of a private defense contractor. But just who is more corrupt? The many pointed fingers are just part of the greater narrative of intrigue and subterfuge. In short, if you are hungry for a political thriller that is mysterious enough to keep you interested but not complex enough that you get lost, combined with a tremendous wealth of superb acting talent, then “State of Play” will satiate your palate.