State of Play
Russel Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Murder. Adultery. Political intrigue. Just another day at the keyboard for award-winning old school reporter Cal McAffrey.
Over the course of a moderately paced two hours, "State of Play" weaves together several seemingly unrelated incidents that have created a state of political panic in Washington, D.C. Sonia Baker, the head researcher for Senator Stephen Collins' investigative team, takes a tumble off a subway platform. Coincidentally, prior to her three and a half gainer, Sonia uncovered a trail of lucrative government financed projects leading to PointCort, a covert company made up of contract killers. After Sonia's ticket is punched, a career criminal making off with a coveted briefcase is starched by a trained assassin, and the lone witness to the hit takes a few rounds too, winding up in a coma. When Senator Collins (Ben Affleck in his Robert Kennedy mode) owns up that he played Capitol Hill hi-jinks with his dead lover, it appears Sonia Baker was murdered in order to cripple his career. Collins' college crony, Cal McAffrey (brave and beefy Russell Crowe), a respected veteran staff reporter for the Washington Globe, comes to his defense as the senator's opponents line up to smear his name and divert attention from his investigation of PointCort. McAffrey teams up with the paper's internet ingénue, Della Frye (an animated Rachel McAdams), to clear Collins' name and expose PointCort as the lawless, lucre-loving louses they appear to be. After all, any company that makes $250 million off of the Iraq War and oversees a property nicknamed "Little Baghdad" has to be an enemy of the state, right? But the deeper the nosey newsies dig, the more they begin to wonder who's behind the assassin's bullets and why.
In an effort to show he's an "ak-tor," Russell Crowe literally allowed himself to go to pot -- pot belly that is. He's given better performances of late, especially as the murderous, morally bankrupt Ben Wade in the credible remake of "3:10 to Yuma" (4 out of 5 stars). He isn't as convincing when he's using his brain instead of his brawn. Russell's performance is nothing to Crowe about, but he ably serves as the film's defiant bastion of morality, remaining Collins' unwavering faithful friend:
Collins (standing at McAffrey's doorstep after his extra marital scandal breaks): I know what you're thinking. This guy must be pretty desperate to show up here.
McAffrey: No, I was thinking I could finally give back that Roxy Music CD you left in my car.
Ben Affleck's term as Senator Collins is sexy but stiff, although he effectively projects the charismatic crusader attributes of Bobby Kennedy while maintaining the behind the scenes horny goat sex drive of Bobby's brother, John. Amy Adams is perky and feisty as blog babe Della Frye, and she's an effective emotional foil for Crowe's distrustful old timer. Helen Mirren continues to mine her spunky old hag image as the newspaper's managing editor. As Lou Grant once said, "I hate spunk." Mirren is a noisy annoyance with a classy British accent.
It's the film's all-star supporting cast that gives the film a stately presence. Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development") twitches and cowers his way through his scenes as a sleazy public relations agent (is there any other kind?). Neglected in real life by philandering hubby Sean, Robin Wright Penn plays Senator Collins' put upon spouse, Anne, who tries to suppress a burning desire to rewrite history with the man who got away (McAffrey, of course). It's one of those "Psst, suspend all belief" moments when you see the potential love triangle straining to develop. Should Anne stick with the Barrymore-profiled political power-broker, or try and bed the schlumpy, grumpy newshound who's too loyal to respond? Uh-huh.
Thanks to "Dumb and Dumber," fans have forgotten that Jeff Daniels was an effective dramatic actor in films like "Pleasantville" and "Gods and Generals." As George Fergus, Collins' humorless, not so trustworthy political lieutenant, Daniels portrays the type of God, County and N.R.A. right winger with clout we should all fear.
Crowe doesn't strain himself physically, although he does demonstrate a talent for creasing his brow. The action comes from the supporting players: Affleck administers a spur of the moment beat down, Daniels has a seething confrontation with Crowe, and Adams does a chuck and duck to avoid a spray of bullets. But "State of Play" requires you shift your state of mind if you're expecting endless chase scenes and gunplay. It's more about talking heads than taking prisoners. "All the President's Men" will likely still get your vote as one of the political genre's top films, but "State" is worth a play.