State of Play
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
In the 33 years since All the President's Men was released, any film, which was about politics, corruption, conspiracies, and/or newspapers, has tried to attain the same level of cinematic perfection. So far, no one has succeeded.
In the current State of Play, Russell Crowe, an aging reporter on a Washington newspaper and not particularly enamored of the corporate, blog-oriented direction of his employer, is pals with former college roommate Ben Affleck, an up-and-coming Congressman. Affleck is estranged from his marriage to Robin Wright Penn, for whom Crowe has always been more than fond. Affleck is heading up a committee investigating a Haliburton-style company for corruption in handling government outsourcing in Iraq. When the lead investigator on Affleck’s team turns up dead, fingers point, brows furrow, and everyone wants answers.
If this is starting to sound soapy, it is. Crowe has to balance news and friendship. Affleck has to balance career and friendship. And crusty newspaper editor Helen Mirren has to balance news and corporatism. With all these balls in the air, it’s a wonder anybody has time to get any work done.
So what’s right about this film? Not a lot, actually. As directed by Kevin McDonald, who led Forest Whitaker to an Oscar in The Last King of Scotland, it has the pace of a TV episode. The final credits reveal that the film is based on a BBC-TV miniseries. The script, co-written by Oscar nominee Tony Gilroy, writer-director of Michael Clayton, is as convoluted and conspiratorial as they get, and the dialogue is instantly forgettable.
Crowe phones in his performance as if he knows his fifteen minutes is about up. Affleck is way out of his league, and proves that he’s better off behind the camera, which he did quite admirably with last year’s Gone Baby Gone. Penn is window dressing in a role without much substance. Rachel McAdams plays the young blogger, but comes across as really young, almost a teenager, and is not particularly believable. Even dependable Helen Mirren walks through what I like to call a “paycheck role,” and is the journalistic equivalent of what Judi Dench does as “M” in the James Bond films. Other quality supporting performers like Viola Davis, Josh Mostel, and Jeff Daniels as a West Virginia congressman who just oozes sleaze, are wasted. More impressive, however, is former TV star Jason Bateman as an oily operative for the corporation under investigation. He’s very good.
The bad guys even have a suite of offices at the Watergate building.
It all leads up to what is one of the most unsatisfying climaxes I’ve seen in years. Too bad. All this talent, all that money, and a story that might have had potential go nowhere.