Politicly charged movies are getting a good rap lately. From the Oscar nominated Frost/Nixon, to the Oscar winning Milk... yeah, they've been doing pretty well for themselves lately. So, now we have State of Play, a sharp as nails thriller that leaves me thinking two things. 1.) That, if this movie is anything to go on, journalists keep ridiculous hours. 2.) I'm really impressed with State of Play.
State of Play begins with a double homicide at the hands of a shady fellow in black. The next day, another person has been killed, this one being an aide to prominent congressman Stephen Collins. An old friend of Collins', Cal McAffrey, an investigative reporter at The Washington Globe quickly pounces on the story, and, with the help of an ambitious new member to the staff, starts to dig up some juicy dirt. As he digs deeper however, he realizes that the actual truth is far more disturbing then he had originally thought.
The cast, which boasts a slew of top tier names, is mighty impressive. Russell Crowe plays Cal. Picture this. If Crowe's Ritchie Roberts from American Gangster were an investigative reporter, he would be Cal. Crowe plays him as the most honest journalist in the world, but who is not beyond actual human emotion. Throughout the movie, he is forced to keep his friendship with Collins in check so as not to jeopardize the story. It's really good work from Crowe. Ben Affleck plays Collins. Let's be honest, Affleck is one of the most suspect actors working today. I mean, come on, he's about as consistent in his work as I am with these reviews. He can do great work in movies like Good Will Hunting, Dogma, and Hollywoodland, and follow it up with God awful performances in Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Gigli, and Daredevil. But, he turns in one of his better performances here. He is actually quite good as this conflicted, confused congressman who gets caught in the middle of conspiracy after conspiracy. Don't expect a decent performance from him in the future. Like I said, inconsistent. Rachel McAdams plays Cal's fiery new partner. It's nice to see McAdams back in the mainstream after what seems like a five year hiatus. Don't worry, she's just as good as we remember. Helen Mirren does her usual excellent work as Cal's hotheaded editor who is more motivated by paper sales then actual facts. To cap it off, we have Jason Bateman in an Oscar worthy performance as a sketchy PR man with a taste for clubs, fancy Cadillacs, and a shit ton of hair gel. He steals every scene he's in and nails every line he has. If there was an award for Outstanding Casting in a movie, this one would be a shoe in.
Director Kevin Macdonald knows how to handle politics. He showed us that with the brilliant The Last King of Scotland, and impresses us again. Everything in State of Play has been done before, and done better. But, it's tried and true formula, and Macdonald does a great job of utilizing it. The movie moves at a breakneck pace, never stopping to take a breather. Macdonald is careful in his storytelling in that he crams the scene with enough to make the viewers have to think to figure out what's going on, but he doesn't make them feel like complete idiots either. That was one of the big problems in Duplicity. It was smart; too smart. No one knew what the hell was going on in that movie. State of Play has no such problem. It can be confusing if you're not paying attention, but, if you do, you'll have no problem following along. Macdonald is just giving us a little taste of what he is capable of. Expect wonderful things from him in the future.
So, it may be obvious, but I really like State of Play. Sure, pretty much everything in it has been done before, but it does it so well, I can't complain. I'm just ashamed, because I'm betting that it's not going to get the audience it deserves. The general public of this fine country seems to hate a movie that makes you think. Maybe that's why Watchmen essentially flopped. Don't be like them! B