State Of Play

Director    Kevin Macdonald
Starring    Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman
Release    17 APR (US) 24 APR (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


26th April 2009

Let's say for argument's sake that Paul Abbott's 2003 mini-series State Of Play wasn't watched by everyone, and that many people will be coming to Kevin Macdonald's complex thriller completely cold, with no prior knowledge. Sitting comfortably? Let's begin.

Cal McAfferey (Crowe), an old school investigative journalist for the fictional Washington Globe who has an unhealthy love of chilli-cheese fries and Irish folk rock, pads around a gloomy, rainy Washington DC coaxing a little extra information out of lieutenants and morgue attendants alike with his mumbly charm. His morning starts out normally, with the fatal shooting of a young petty criminal served up for breakfast. Later that day, rising political star Stephen Collins (Affleck) announces the death of aide Sonia Baker so tearfully that the media has no choice but to assume they were sleeping together and, lo, a sleazy sex scandal is born.

In perhaps the most unbelievable plot reach, it's revealed that McAfferey and Collins were college room-mates (perhaps Cal took five years out to travel round Goa), and the cynical journalist instantly leaps to his old friend's defence, mounting an investigation into the Baker death. He takes greenhorn Capitol Hill blogger Della Frye (McAdams) along for the ride, partly because he needs someone to do the grunt work, and partly to annoy his potty mouthed editor, Helen Mirren.

As soon as the first stone is gently pried up and the two deaths become inextricably linked, McAfferey and Frye find themselves in waters deep, murky and full of spineless creepy doubletalkers. That's what you get for investigating mystery in Washington. There's a larger McGuffin at work in State Of Play, as iceberg-like multi-billion dollar private military organisation Pointcorps attempts to bid on and control Homeland Security, which in the current political climate rings worryingly true.

The intrigue and action is skilfully handled by director Kevin Macdonald, who gives Washington just the grey tone and shadowy feeling that the plot requires, where shady characters flit behind columns and through parking lots like a modern-day Don't Look Now. The plot twists and turns beautifully, and there are some real jaw-dropping revelations as well as a couple of wildly signposted ones.

Crowe delivers another fantastic performance, completely owning McAfferey's dying breed of schlumpy, world-weary journalist. Affleck clearly paid attention to younger bother Casey's acting in Gone Baby Gone, and brings his own kind of best work to the game - you can see where originally cast Ed Norton would have been a better Collins, but you can't fault the boy for trying. Rachel McAdams is charming as Della, the online blogger with an investigative journo's beating heart. Thankfully, her mentor/rookie relationship with Crowe never spills over into obvious, dewy-eyed romance.

One supporting cast member who really deserves credit is Jason Bateman, playing morally dead governmental PR oil slick Dominic Foy, but Jeff Daniels, Robin Wright-Penn and the guy from the Orange ads are all solid background characters.

Unfortunately, some dialogue does let the side down, with poor Dame Helen given some dreadfully clunky "fierce English editor" nonsense and exposition, with which she does as much as she can. It falls into pure cliché in parts, but not badly enough to pull you out of the action. The same cannot be said for the score which was at times is overwhelming, you'll wish cinemas had personal volume controls.

Overall, State of Play is an absorbing, at times extremely tense, thriller. Watch the 2003 mini-series for a point of reference to contrast and compare, or don't - it'll likely please everyone anyway.

More:  Thriller  Politics  Drama
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