Saturday, August 8, 2009

State of Play **1/2

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck
Rachel McAdams, Jeff Daniels, Robin Wright Penn, Helen Mirren
Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Michael Berresse

A research assistant working for congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck) dies mysteriously. A man and a pizza deliverer are shot by an unidentified gunman.
Before you can say Clark Kent, Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey (Crowe) has found links between both incidents as well as a corporate conspiracy involving senators, sex scandals and hitmen.
Based on Paul Abbott's magnificent miniseries for the BBC, director Macdonald finds himself trying to deliver six hours worth of material in two streamlined hours; with results that often thrill, but never fulfill.
The succession of events is rapid and keeps you interested in the action, especially because new evidence/leads arrive by the minute and for this the film essentially achieves its mission of being one of the only adult thrillers delivered so far this year.
The cast is phenomenal, even if they don't really push their craft too much. Crowe is always fascinating to watch, he inhabits McAffrey in such a way that you never doubt he's been a reporter for almost two decades.
McAdams as ingenue blogger Della Frye brings a sense of girl scout perkiness that flies well with Crowe's more established macho ways (romance between them is never hinted, but there is sexual tension all the time).
Mirren plays editor Cameron Lynne and the role is a walk through the park for her, it requires her just being commanding and elegantly offensive. Wright Penn, who really needs to get herself a leading role, brings a moving sense of despair playing Stephen's cheated wife.
Daniels is wonderful in a limited role, as is the always fascinating Davis (she gets one miserable scene here!). The only inadequate piece is Affleck, who thinks playing a congressman requires him to frown and overuse his squared jaw.
The screenplay remains taut and the changes that have been made from the miniseries actually work (for the most part), there are still some lose ends and some rather Hollywood-esque plot twists (a deranged hitman goes all Terminator on Crowe in the final, unnecessary, showdown).
But mostly the film suffers because it fails to follow one of the guiding rules of journalism; it doesn't choose an angle.
It wants to be about everything, about current politics, about Iraq war profits, about the decease of printed media (which should've been the angle to pick!), plus each of the characters represents a particular point of view.
Cal is all about respect for the the story, Della believes in morality and "the right thing", Cameron thinks about money and company losses and there is just so much going on that the whole movie feels as a work in progress.
Those who can, should stick to the miniseries, those who have not seen it will probably enjoy this movie with all and its typos.

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