I’m not one for hyperbole. Ok I am one for hyperbole, I try hard to grab attention but I always pull myself back from going over the top, so when I tell you that State of Play is the best film of 2009 (so far) I don’t say it lightly. This despite of the fact that I really don’t like Russell Crowe as an actor and based on news reports, a human being – but I’ve never met the man so it’s hard to put that kind of judgment on someone. But State of Play is the first film that I’ve seen all year that is about something. It’s more about the state of the newspaper industry and how it’s gone wrong than it is about the growing mystery surrounding the murder of a Senator Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) lover and how his best friend from College, a grizzled investigative reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) helps him manage the media fall out from this.
No, the murder mystery is secondary to the film showcasing how investigative journalist work, the fights that they have with Executive Editors who now have to worry about the bottom line from their new corporate overseers. It’s about old line journalist and newsrooms fighting the young bloggers like Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) who come cheap, work fast, and don’t necessarily care about getting the facts before she posts something on the newspaper’s website. At one point in the film McAffrey sums up the old guard’s feeling of being slighted by saying, “I’ve been here for 15 years, using a 16 year old computer. She’s been here for a few months and can launch a missile from her phone.”
The movie’s director Kevin Macdonald obviously has something against bloggers as he spends the first 20 minutes of the film trashing them and then the rest of it converting Della into a “real” Journalist to the point where at the end she says, “No, I’ll wait until this hits the stands, a big story like this needs to be felt on the hands.” I wanted to gag when she said that. Not only that but he doesn’t spend anytime showing her actually, y’know, blogging.
I love Rachel McAdams, she’s not in enough films and I think that’s what makes her one of the best young actresses around. She’s careful in the roles she takes and how she’s planning her career. She holds her own with Crowe who is at his “Crowest” here. I’ve never understood the Crowe appeal but he is good in this and Affleck gets back on track here. He is the perfect smooth talking, crusading politico. There’s a great moment in the film where he is heading up a committee meeting and his party handlers told him no grandstanding, he sits there quietly as the executive of a Security Firm (I felt like I was watching 24) starts spouting platitudes. You can see the vein in Affleck’s forehead about the to explode, really good facial expression.
Being stuck here in boring Florida, watching this movie made me miss DC. It’s one of those rare films that really get D.C. right. It’s not this immaculate, glossy Capital City. DC is just there in the background as a character itself right down to using local newscasters, the Washington Monument in the background and come on did they have to use Ben’s Chili Bowl as a location? In an extremely rare move they were even allowed to film in the DC Metro system. Usually film crews don’t get permits for that, which is why most films shot in DC avoid having metro scenes or when they do like “Along Came A Spider,” they swap it for some other city’s subway system.
The movie almost made me ashamed to be a “blogger,” although I’ve always considered Eclipse a newsmagazine and not a “blog.” State of Play is a standard by the numbers thriller right down to a garage confrontation, generic thriller music and “twist” ending. It’s not genre busting but it is one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in a long time.
Final Grade A
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Originally posted 4.19.09