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Movie review: Top-notch characters, plot make rousing 'State of Play'

Lane Blevins • Apr 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

“State of Play” has a variety of great facets to remark on. Just take your pick — be it the taut style of narrative or the top-notch performances that are turned up to 11.

What I especially love about the film is the way it demands your attention. You cannot help how completely it engages you. This is a refreshing thing, given the hours of mindless drivel that finds its way to the silver screen.

Now, I’m not one to grab a soapbox and exclaim sermons on how and why movies should be enjoyed. But let’s face it, there are many times we find ourselves plopping down into a theater simply to lay our burdens down for a couple of hours and mindlessly observe, say, giant robots fighting each other.

Indeed, Michael Bay has seemingly built a career on making fodder for such viewing habits.

However, “State of Play” simply won’t allow it. Instead, it commands your attention. You must go into this film ready to be swept up. This is a movie for those who love movies.

The seemingly out-of-nowhere political thriller stars Russell Crowe as a rough-around-the-edges journalist named Cal McAffrey, who finds himself in an uncomfortable position when his former college roommate turned congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) winds up in a highly publicized scandal.

Torn between his responsibilities as a journalist and his loyalty to an old friend, Crowe’s character decides to dive in and investigate the scandal surrounding his old friend, all in an effort to exonerate the disgraced congressman.

As the old school McAffrey begins his investigation, he finds his every move shadowed by his young, doe-eyed co-worker Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). Della is of the new school of journalism. She is the dreaded staff blogger.

McAffrey is flustered with how quickly Della can get ahold of the same information he spends hours pounding the pavement for. So, he decides to ask her to join his investigation in an effort to instill in her an appreciation for the old school as well as some street smarts.

The always elegant Helen Mirren plays the ever-stressed and irritated editor-in-chief, who is constantly struggling to keep McAffrey wrangled in, while facing pressure from the newspaper owners to print the juicy gossip that sells papers.

Also in the cast is Jason Bateman, terrifically utilized as a slimy public relations playboy who finds himself a key player in the scandal against Congressman Collins.

This is all I can give you for a summary. “State of Play” is a dense and intricate political thriller that doesn’t really lend itself to summation. That is not to say the film is overwhelming or hard to follow. But again, you can’t go into this movie and switch off your brain.

“State of Play,” which composes its suspense and mystery with master strokes, is also great to watch for its setting in the trenches of investigative journalism. The film delves into the trials, tribulations and often sketchy practices of investigative journalism with a very romantic and entertaining flair. There is also a palpable undertone of anti-Internet sentiment that inspires debate regarding the pros and cons of lightning-fast digital journalism.

While all of the performances in “State of Play” are top notch, I do draw criticism towards how a few of the characters are written. I’m referring in particular to Russell Crowe’s character, who at times comes off as one giant stereotype of your garden variety street-smart, renegade journalist boasting a problem with authority.

Having said that, this flick was a surprising hit. I’ve never been one to shout the praises of the political thriller genre. It’s just never been a favorite of mine.

However, “State of Play” gets top marks in my book. Go check it out.

3½ stars (out of 4)

STARRING: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Helen Mirren

DIRECTED BY: Kevin Macdonald

RATED: PG-13 for some violence, language, sexual references and brief drug content

RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, 7 minutes

Lane Blevins is an aspiring filmmaker.

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