State of Play
So, what’s it like turning into a wolf?

Theatrical Release Date: 04/17/2009
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Michael Berresse, Harry Lennix

Apparently, Hollywood had a few mystery/suspense thrillers on their hands this year and needed to dump them off before the summer rush got going. I speak of course about “The International“, “Duplicity” and now “State of Play”.

Whereas the first two are about Clive Owen and spying of one sort or another, the newest of the genre for 2009 deals with Russell Crowe as a D.C. journalist, who gets entangled in the shady dealings of a congressman/former roommate (Ben Affleck) caught between public hearings regarding a private mercenaries corporation (basically Blackwater) and the death of his mistress.

Director Kevin Macdonald (no, not the guy from Kids in the Hall) and a team of screenwriters have adapted the film from a BBC series and are hoping that the numerous attempts to twist and turn things will somehow net them a great film. Maybe it’s because I see so many movies or maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many movies like this before – but I have to say that I’m not too impressed … even with all the not-so-subtext regarding the demise of the newspaper in an ever-evolving technologically obsessed society.

I don’t mean to be too negative, everything in the film is serviceable and had I seen only half of the genre that’s passed in front of my eyes, I’d probably be more enthusiastic. The simple fact is that aficionados of the political intrigue film will see all of the red herrings for what they are and, like the women Vin Diesel prefers in “Fast & Furious“, see through all the bullshit.

Crowe has had numerous roles that required him to wade through the murky depths of corporate, international and/or institutional espionage (“The Insider”, “Body of Lies“, “L.A. Confidential”) and so it comes as no surprise that he seems to be sleepwalking through much of the part. There’s no new ground for him to explore as an actor and while it’s a good performance, I’d have hoped he’d approach a project so similar to others he had already done only because it would bring something new to the table.

The man at the center of the story being investigated by Crowe is none other than Gigli himself, Ben Affleck. Now, I made a promise at the end of my “Gone Baby Gone” review not to make fun of him until he deserved it … and in a shocking turn of events, he doesn’t quite deserve ridicule here so I’ll hold up to my end of the deal. I think he was miscast, finding it often difficult to separate the celebrity from the character but I chalk that up equally to the casting department and Affleck’s abilities. While he’s technically old enough to have been elected to such high public office, I never quite believed it.

There’s also a point in the film where he must deliver the big, heartfelt dialogue that some actors probably skip to when reading prospective scripts; it was here that I had to let out the laughs bubbling inside of me and I wasn’t alone in the audience. There’s even a line within that scene that came off so whiny as to evoke memories of a young Mark Hamill wanting to pick up some power converters from Tosche station.

Rachel McAdams is as cute as ever but the idea that the newspaper’s star blogger can find herself embroiled in a scandal of Watergate sized proportions is hard to swallow. Also, the development of her character and the relationship between her and Crowe never seemed to reach its zenith and felt more distracting and unnecessary than anything else. Perhaps is was something explored more in depth in the TV series but without the time to let their dynamic evolve, it simply felt forced.

Macdonald does a decent job of holding a modicum of tension during the film but because the story seemed to be dependent on trying (unsuccessfully) to keep the audience in the dark about all of the central figures’ intentions, that tension often just made me want to hit fast forward so I could cut to the chase. It’s like being shown a funny movie on a transoceanic flight – sure, I might be amused but I’d rather have arrived at my destination.

On the plus side, Helen Mirren nails the editor role and injects some welcome energy into an otherwise metered cast. And even for all of the less than stellar issues I had with the film, it’s not bad enough to waste your time … it’s just not good enough to necessarily be worth it. A marginal 3 out of 5, all of the beats one must hit in the genre are here but you won’t find any new territory being explored and are better off either going with any of the other Russell Crowe films already mentioned if you just need a fix of the cantankerous Aussie or something like “The Constant Gardener” or “All the President’s Men” if it’s the genre you’re more interested in than the actors.