Monday, September 07, 2009

State of Play: Grade B

State of Play (2009)
Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn; Director Kevin MacDonald.

Crowe and McAdams are investigative reporters at a Washington, D.C. newspaper sniffing around a congressional scandal. The story is loosely an update of All The President’s Men, although the stakes are somewhat banal in this case: scandalous behavior by a young congressman from Pennsylvania (Affleck). The story starts with grander ambition, considering the question of whether outsourcing of military security to private firms is ethical, constitutional, or even good policy. This issue is topical and has gravitas. But disappointingly, it fades away, leaving a garden variety sex scandal.

Crowe is investigating the suicide of the congressman’s assistant, and a back alley murder, when he unexpectedly finds a connection between them. There is a moment of realization every bit as good as when Robert Redford heard the Watergate burglars name a white house official in court. Times have changed since the 1970’s, especially the newspaper business, but this story pretends that newspapers and their reporters still shake the world. They don’t, so the tension feels contrived here, despite Crowe's anachronistic haircut and corduroy sports jackets.

It is a star vehicle for Crowe. He is in almost every scene, to the detriment of the other actors and characters. McAdams holds her own against him, but her cub reporter character is not as important. Mirren, the newspaper boss, is a master of exasperation, but she only has one good acting scene. Affleck’s performance is bland. Maybe that was what the character called for but it produced a placeholder not a narrative force. Wright-Penn is a pleasure to watch, although her part is small.

It is a low-key “talkie” thriller where the excitement stems from the information we (and Crowe) have and don’t have. There isn’t much action except in the opening scene. There are plenty of loose ends and internal contradictions, including a very unlikely final confession blurted out by the congressman when confronted with vague innuendos. Despite these faults, it is a relatively tight thriller with superior acting, directing, photography, editing, and music, and terrific sets.

No comments:

Post a Comment