Film Reviews

STATE OF PLAY

By • Apr 17th, 2009 •

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Standard political thriller with tense direction. Long weave-haired Charles Laughton does a serviceable job.

I thought a newspaper reporter is chained to a desk working phones and typing all day long. Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is a shower-free veteran reporter at a D.C. newspaper under the tutelage of tough-talking editor Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren). Lynne is only interested in pleasing the newspaper’s new owners’ bottom line.

The bell has been rung. Who reads newspapers anymore?

A random double-slaying is followed by the death of Congressman Stephen (Ben Affleck) Collins’ chief research female assistant. Collins is chairing an important committee looking into the awarding of government contracts. As a veteran reporter, Cal has close friendships all over D.C., especially Congressman Collins. They were not only college roommates, but Cal had an affair with Collins’ wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn).

When Collins admits to an affair with his staffer, he goes to Cal. Now Cal is in the perfect position to get to the heart of the story. Soon it appears that the staffer’s death was not an accident or suicide.

Cal’s 70’s flip hairdo is distracting as he barrels around town all covered up. The newspaper has hired a blogger, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), and she is all over the Congressman’s seedy affair. They divvy up the story, as Cal helps Della learn the ropes.

The mystery twists and bends as Cal and Della turn up at unlikely places in the police investigation. The payoff is predictable and not very satisfying.

Crowe gives his expected and relied on full attention to his character. He’s in every scene. Thankfully, he doesn’t contractually require a romance with his cute, young co-star. However, the Congressman’s wife is still holding a flaming torch for him.

I thought D.C. bloggers were more savvy and sophisticated. McAdams plays Della like a wide-eyed innocent, constantly screeching at Cal that they are not acting (a) professionally, (b) legally, and (c) spiritually. Mirren delivers with strength, resolve, and sexiness. She’d make a perfect “M”.

Jason Bateman is terrific in a small role while Affleck has a hard time showing sincere emotion. He looks the part, but that’s about it.

While it might not seem fair to discuss a star’s appearance, when it dominates a performance it is worth highlighting. Crowe’s hairdo is as improbable as the script. Pushing his hair out of his face is a part of his performance. Is Crowe going through an artistic crisis? Here he is unshaven, fat, and looks 10 years older than he is. Did he hire Al Pacino’s hairdresser? Crowe has chosen to portray yet another character (2008’s BODY OF LIES, 2007’s AMERICAN GANGSTER) uninterested in his appearance.

Let’s hope Ridley Scott, directing Crowe’s next film ROBIN HOOD, doesn’t once again publicly state that they decided their Robin Hood should be fat.

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