, 127 min, 2009
Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne), Robin Wright (Anne Collins (as Robin Wright Penn)), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (George Fergus), Michael Berresse (Robert Bingham), Harry Lennix (Detective Bell), Josh Mostel (Pete), Michael Weston (Hank), Barry Shabaka Henley (Gene Stavitz), Viola Davis (Dr. Judith Franklin), David Harbour (PointCorp Insider), Sarah Lord (Mandi). Directed by Kevin Macdonald and produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Andrew Hauptman. Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, based on a television series by Paul Abbott.
Kevin Macdonald’s State of Play is a riveting, absorbing, labyrinthine maze into which several characters are pulled, involving blackmail, murder, a sex scandal, infidelity, a shadowy government practice, and lots and lots of hidden motives.
Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the ace investigative reporter at the Washington Globe, a scruffy-haired, bearded hulk of a man who bounds onto his Capitol Hill crime scenes and shares a chummy, teasing rapport with the detectives and beat cops therein (represented by Harry Lennix’s Detective Donald Bell). Cal lives in the 20th Century, working on an out-of-date computer, driving an old car, getting his sources the old-fashioned way (by which I mean old-fashioned for a Hollywood thriller). He meets his match in plucky, young Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a blogger working for the Globe who he will have to team up with to solve his latest mystery.
A young black teen runs through the city away from a single gunman. The black teen is gunned down, only for the same fate to then befall an innocent pizza delivery guy who witnesses the occurance. The next morning, a woman named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) either jumps or is pushed under a subway train. Sonia Baker, turns out, was both a research assistant and mistress to Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a congressman who was once Cal’s college roommate.
Collins has been conducting a seemingly never-ending investigation into PointCorp, a Blackwater-esque, private corporate security firm (or army) that goes into foreign territories and…does what Americans do. What was Collins discovering about PointCorp that would’ve caused them to kill Sonia Baker? Is everything what it appears to be?
The film has been directed by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland) and adapted from the BBC series created by Paul Abbott. The screenplay credits read like a virtual who’s who of modern political/action thriller masters: Tony Gilroy, screenwriter of the Bourne saga and writer-director of corporate crime thrillers Michael Clayton and the more recent – and comedically-tinged – Duplicity; Billy Ray, writer-director of both the news reporter corruption-involved Shattered Glass (2003) and the CIA thriller Breach (2007); and Matthew Michael Carnahan, brother of Joe Carnahan (Blood Guts Bullets & Octane, Smokin’ Aces), who recently wrote the Iraq war-concerned Robert Redford film Lions for Lambs (2007) and the anti-terrorism thriller, Peter Berg’s The Kingdom (2007).
The film is full of shadowy murders, elaborate chases and near-misses, violent interrogations, murky searches through leads and blind alleys (sometimes literally), and results in more than a few genuine surprises (though I knew at least once that the film couldn’t possibly end “that simply” and, of course, there was another twist).
Crowe makes a terrific reporter on the fringe, attempting to uncover the truth at all costs to aid his friend. McAdams is a wonderful gal Friday, tough and ingenious but also doe-eyed and (surprisingly) innocent. Affleck makes a remarkably convincing congressman caught in a whirlwind of corruption, scandal and secrets.
As if all that I mentioned above wasn’t enough, there are also other strands, including a creepy playboy (Jason Bateman), the relationship between Affleck and his scorned wife (Robin Wright Penn), who (as it turns out) was once Cal’s girlfriend and may have her sights on him again, and the ever-looming deadlines of editor Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), who must bow to corporate pressure in an increasingly tech-dependant age.
Indeed, it might all seem like a bit much to chew in a 127 minute film, truncated from a 6-hour British mini-series. Nevertheless, the results are always involving, fascinating and keep you on the edge of your seat.