Sunday, April 19, 2009

State of Play Review

Is it a drama or a thriller, political or just good show? In the end State of Play combines both and until the last 10 minutes it is a very good movie.

The regular drama/thriller movie these days is rapidly being taken over by the indie film scene. More and more of them are being done by smaller studios for less money which means they don't necessarily have to make a huge amount back. This film though got the big treatment, adapted from a BBC TV movie serial. I will admit to never watching the original so I have nothing to compare this movie too. Still it plays out like most thrillers where government is the big bad, only in this case it ends up being widow dressing by the time the movie is over.

A mostly solid cast lead by Russell Crowe is one of the reasons this such a good film. Crowe is the crusty journalist Cal McAffrey, a dinosaur in a increasingly digital world, where one does not investigate a story, one makes a story appear and simply comments on it.He does his research on his feet, real work that's out in the open, talking to police and hunting down leads. The movie is timely given the many layoffs and newspaper closures happening in just the last few months alone. Papers are either going completely online or shutting down while blogging hogs all the spot light. They need money, sales both of the paper and in advertising and Cal's paper the fictional Washington Globe has new owners eager to see a profit. At the beginning of the film he's reporting on a random murder case. When another death occurs that involves his buddy congressman Stephen Collins played by Ben Affleck, suddenly the murders and the death of Collins assistant start to converge in what looks to be a political battle with the private sector about greed and corruption.

The story is tightly played out, with nice turns and twists that still let the viewer enjoy the film without becoming confused or convoluted. The polictal and private sector plots while predictable are told in an entertaining way, so that the viewer doesn't become bored about it. Some action is thrown in to liven things up, just enough to imperil our heroes to make us route for them. Interwoven is the idea that media in today's world has and is and probably should change, but it needs to change for the better. Bloggers are the new on the spot reporters but as is pointed out, they just spot the problem and blow it up, they don't 'report it'. The bloggers are the new money making people at the paper, brought to light by Rachel McAdams who plays hot blogger at the moment Della Frye. All she sees is the scandal and tries to make sense of why Cal would want to go any further than that. As she sees it the congressman cheated, he probably killed his assistant to hide it, he's guilty end of story. Which if you've followed any stories like this in the last few years is what you usually get on blogs, the bear facts spit out at a breakneck speed with no background checks or anything else. Cal must get to the real heart of the issue, all while defending the old way to his editor Lynne, under pressure from the competition and her bosses to make money first, stories second.

Until the last ten minutes these stories are wonderfully realized and presented as something to think about. Then they throw it all away for a silly ending. Really if they are smart they will cut that ten minutes out and end it where any audience would think to do so on the DVD release. The ending as is, just makes it all fizzle out and makes the rest a joke when it could have been a very good story to bring to light.It is cliche and much too easy.

The acting is very good, though Affleck just came off as too slick and boyishly self righteous.By the end his character is just a spoiled bored brat you want to club over the head. Crowe is his usual steady self and brings a real essence to Cal. From the moment you see him, Crowe makes Cal real to the audience. You believe in him and root for him to be the hero for his friend, applaud him when he actually investigates the case using his charm and tricks to get the story. He's a bit overweight, gruff and cranky at the modern world, but he's a character you can relate to on some level.McAdams is very good at the self entitled star blogger, in tune with the modern world where Cal is not. The audience can see Frye grow as she helps Cal out, learning that just blogging a story is much too easy, that real journalism takes work. Thankfully they did not go the romantic route with the two characters, something that may have happened if Cal was played by Brad Pitt who was originally set to play the character. For once this is a nice mentor/friendship relationship with the give and take such a releationship needs.

A great story which makes for a good solid two hours,but with a lousy ending. Money well spent for the adults. 4/5

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