Friday, April 17, 2009

State of Play. B+

You wouldn't expect Kevin Macdonald, who previously directed the 2006 drama 'The Last King of Scotland' and two other documentaries to be at the helm of a sleek, mystery thriller like 'State of Play.' But it turns out he can handle this sort of film just fine as he, along with screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Billy Ray, Tony Gilroy, and Peter Morgan, crafts a smart political thriller that never loses its intelligence or charm, with the exception of a typical hide and seek scene in a car garage. The plot is as convoluted as can be, so I'll keep it simple: Russell Crow plays Cal McCafery, a journalist who gets caught up in a web of corruption and deceit when he decides to investigate three deaths that he believes are linked together somehow. Rachel McCadams plays Della Frye, a blogger who assists McCafery in the case. The other central character is Stephen Collins, a congressman played by Ben Affleck. It is revealed that Collins had an affair with Sonya Baker, who was killed in a subway accident. They are uncertain if her death was murder or suicide. She is the primary character investigated by McCafery. So the plot sounds simple, but as the movie goes along, it gets more intriguing and more complicated, especially when we discover more of the potential motives behind the killing, including the fact that Collins is involved in a scandal that would allow his company to make a fortune by taking over homeland security, which the military had previously been in charge of. The plot moves fast, and you have to stay alert to keep up with it. But even that aside, there is still plenty more to admire in this sort of espionage thriller. The Technicals are fantastic, as they are very reminiscent to 'Michael Clayton,' 'Breach' and 'Shattered Glass,' all of which are technically excellent. Also, the performances are terrific. Crowe is perfect as McCafery, and McAdams does a pretty nice job too. But some of the minor characters are great as well. Helen Mirren as the editor of the newspaper, Jeff Daniels as a colleague of Collins, and Jason Bateman as Dominic Foy, a key character in the later part of the film. There are a few problems though. Ben Affleck doesn't quite bring the same goods as the others, and sometimes the plot has trouble keeping a level of consistency. Also, as I mentioned, there is a fun little scene in a car garage, though unfortunately it is far too familiar. However, these flaws should not keep you from seeing 'State of Play,' a bright, throwback sort of picture that is simply a ton of fun to watch. Don't be surprised though if you leave the theater feeling you need to see it again, just so you can pick up some of the details you may have missed. (Be sure to stay for the closing credits, too)

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