Thursday, April 23, 2009

STATE OF PLAY - derivative, badly made, dull political thriller

I love political thrillers, and have liked the previous work of the writers behind STATE OF PLAY - Billy Ray (FLIGHTPLAN), Matthew Michael Carnahan (LIONS FOR LAMBS), and Tony Gilroy (DUPLICITY, MICHAEL CLAYTON,THE BOURNE MOVIES & THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE). Unfortunately, these collective talents have turned in a script that, if one were being kind, might be accused of excessive nods to genre tropes, and if one were honest, would be accused of being derivative, lazy and predictable.

Russell Crowe plays an investigative journalist called Cal McAffry, who works on a Washington Post-style paper. We know he's a maverick reporter because, in lazy movie-shorthand, he's overweight, he needs a haircut and shower, his desk is a mess and he's mean to a newbie blogger, Della Fry, played by Rachel McAdams. He has a ballsy, fearless, old school, harrassed editor - is there ever any other type? - played by Helen Mirren. We know she's got balls of steel because she swears a lot. Then again, as soon as the cub reporter starts whimpering because she's being demoted, the apparently hard-nosed editor caves in. Where's the subtle power of Ben Bradlee is ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN - a movie that STATE OF PLAY overtly aspires to be? Cal McAffry has a friend who is a US Senator, Stephen Collins, crusading against the military-industrial complex, as represented by a Blackwater style company called Pointcorp. We know he's serious, earnest and a politician because he has a square jaw and bags under his eyes. His wooden acting may also be a marker of the essential superficiality of the political class, if we were still being generous. Cal and Stephen both dated a woman in college who Stephen later married, and cheated on with an intern who has since been found murdered. The wife is played by an age-appropriate delivery device - Robin Wright Penn - the intern is played by a red-head so we'll be able to pick her out easily in the CCTV footage.

From all this information, and given that I've told you that the writers are in awe of the great paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s, you should be able to piece together the plot. The politician is implicated in death of his young lover. Both were investigating multi-billion dollar government contracts. Could it be that greedy capitalist bastards did it? The movie is very much a standard-issue jigsaw puzzle. I knew whodunnit because I'd seen the infinitely superior British TV serial on which this movie is based. Doctor007 knew whodunnit about thirty minutes in because he has a brain and he's seen enough films like it.

Apart from the predictability and laziness of the plot and characterisations, I was deeply disappointed by the casting decisions and the production values. Russell Crowe, Robin Wright Penn and Ben Affleck are meant to be college contemporaries but Crowe looks a decade older than Affleck. I was sad to see the role of Dominic Foy cut down so much (although Jason Bateman was rather good in the role) and I was sad to see Ben Affleck's role become more two-dimensional. Worst of all, there was a lot of sloppy tech stuff that pulled me out of the film. Look out for some particularly ham-fisted photo-shopped pictures of Senator Affleck as an Iraqi war soldier. My god-daughter could do a more believable job of cutting and pasting a photo of one man's head onto another man's body. 

All in all, this movie is a cheap, serviceable thriller at best, and a pretentious, dull, derivative thriller at worst. Avoid.

STATE OF PLAY is on release in Canada, Iceland, Spain, Turkey, the USA and the UK. It opens in Egypt, Greece, Italy, South Korea, the UAE, Finland, Norway and Sweden next week. It opens on May 22nd in Japan and on May 29th in Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, New Zealand, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Lithuania, Mexico and Romania. It opens on June 5th in Estonia; on June 12th in Singapore and Brazil; on June 18th in Argentina, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal; on June 24th in France and on July 1st in Belgium.

SPOILER: Also, did anyone else find it a tad disappointing to have a movie aim at indicting the military-industrial complex but end up as a movie motivated by sexual jealousy?

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