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Cal McAffrey has inadvertently discovered an unlikely tie between an alleged drug deal gone bad and the purported suicide of a Washington aide.  The reporter for the Washington Globe soon learns the connection leads to the doorstep of an ambitious young politician and old college buddy, Congressman Stephen Collins.  McAffrey unearths a link between the murders and PointCorp, a Blackwater-esque private military firm trying to gain ground stateside.  The paramilitary organisation needs congressional approval in order to do business with the government; enabling them to earn billions of dollars by privatising and taking over domestic defense contracts.  PointCorp is enduring a series of hearings spearheaded by Congressman Collins when Collins’ aide is killed.  McAffrey shelters his troubled friend, even offering advice on how to handle the media, but soon the congressman’s proximity raises questions about McAffrey’s personal loyalty and professional ethics when the scoop of the year is living under his own roof.  McAffrey’s own inquiries into the story find him becoming perilously embroiled in the investigation as a target for the murderers, as well as the police, from whom he has hidden vital evidence.  Are the murders truly connected?  How deep is the scandal between Congressman Collins and his affair with the recently deceased aide?  How far across the line will the news team go to protect their scoop and to what lengths will the murderous cabal go in order to protect their secrets?

A thriller that’s framed with the blessings of contemporaneity, State of Play is smart, taut and tremendously entertaining.  A sharp script gives Russell Crowe some great moments as McAffrey, a paunchy, hangdog newsman who’s got ink for blood.  His paper is feeling the heat of the changing times, when home delivery is quickly being replaced by homepages.  McAffrey is lucky to be valuable enough to his irascible editor, Cameron Lynne {played with beautiful ruthlessness by Helen Mirren} to be fairly safe as writers are let go with each circulation drop.  McAffrey greets the overtures of fresh-faced news blogger, Della Frye {Rachel McAdams} with utter contempt when she tries to dig into a potential political scandal after realising that McAffrey has ties to Collins.  Questions of morality, ethics and sacrifice are nicely addressed with a good amount of tension derived from our hero possibly being dispatched by a killer on the loose.  The characters’ personal loose ends within the story are tied with some unexpected knots.  The threat of a shadowy private military company living by their own rules and codes being given authority on US soil is truly creepy.  We’re shown the modern dilemma of old guard press watching their readership dwindle in favour of bright young things who’ve heard of neither Lexis nor Nexis, but who produce salacious, eye-grabbing copy every hour at bargain rates.  Editor Lynne will never have the expensive task of holding up the presses for copy from dewy-eyed Frye as she does with old salt McAffrey.  McAdams isn’t given terribly much to do as the ambitious blogger who doesn’t know what hit her when Crowe’s McAffrey drafts her as an apprentice; exposing her to moral grayness she never knew existed.  McAdams is suitably spunky and her frown of disapproval is pretty adorable.  Give Frye about 20 more years around McAffrey and you’ll get Helen Mirren’s editor.  In far too few scenes, Dame Helen Mirren spars electrically with Crowe and for all their alleged adversity, the spark between these two brilliant actors is evidence they’re having a lot of fun.  There is a small, juicy bit by the ever-delightful Jason Bateman as a sleazy publicist with fingers in too many pies.  His unctuous courting of power and favour blows up in numerous faces around Washington.  State of Play also gives us Ben Affleck at his best since 2006’s Hollywoodland; he’s perfectly cast as the political rising star, Collins.  Like the natural child of Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, Collins’ personal foibles and tendency toward the spotlight get in the way of earnest political intentions.  The one nagging off note to the whole proceedings was the visible age difference between Crowe and Affleck.  Regardless of the touches of silver artfully applied to Affleck’s coiffure, there’s simply no way I believed for a second that he and Crowe were ever college flatmates, exchanging Roxy Music CDs and competing for the affections of Robin Wright Penn, who plays Collins’ wife.  Crowe, bedraggled, out of shape and sporting a leonine mane of messy curls, looks more like Affleck’s dad than a contemporary.  Perhaps Affleck’s apparent youth worked in the favour of another subplot wherein Mrs. Collins has skeletons of her own to hide having illicitly shagged McAffrey in days gone by.  Wright Penn is lovely as the wife standing by another philandering politico, but she glows in her scenes with the better-matched Crowe. 

Luckily, a sharp script and top-flight performances helmed by Kevin Macdonald, director of 2006’s excellent The Last King of Scotland, as well as the original BBC miniseries on which this film is based, are enough to suspend minor disbelief.  State of Play’s thrills, neat twists and smart, wry humour provide loads of entertainment and the infusion of topical subject matter leaves food for thought once the movie’s over.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 17th 2009







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(Courtesy of  Universal Pictures)





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