by HELEN GEIB
State of Play concludes with a “go to press” sequence that doubles as the main credits. A literal “go to press” sequence: the camera traces the course of a newspaper through the machinery of the printing room of the film’s fictitious D.C. daily. It’s the perfect endnote to a proud throwback to the (idealized) print era, when journalistic standards mattered, people turned to newspapers for news instead of to blogs for speculation and gossip, and Hollywood regularly cast crusading reporters as the heroes of the story.
The reporter hero of State of Play is an experienced crime-beat investigative journalist played by Russell Crowe. He is rumpled, unkempt, a workaholic, unafraid of antagonizing the powers-that-be in pursuit of a story, and tenacious in following up leads and tracking down motives; the journalist-detective archetype that is the delight of crime fiction writers. Crowe’s performance keeps the character human and the movie on track. Rachel McAdams plays the cub reporter brought over from the paper’s on-line side to assist in the investigation and Helen Mirren the hard-bitten managing editor. Also classic types and fine performances, not least because they fully stand up to Crowe’s.
The script is based on a 2003 British TV series. While I can only imagine that much in the way of plot and characters must have been cut out in the process of adaptation, a little more yet needed to be. The movie is overstuffed. The plot is admirably coherent despite many– many– twists and turns, always interesting, and usually credible, but there’s just a little too much of it. Important discoveries are made and motives revealed with no time, or at least not enough time, available to explore their causes or develop their effects.
While that criticism is more than a quibble, this is nevertheless an enjoyable and satisfying movie. In addition to the excellent performances by Crowe, McAdams, and Mirren, there is fine work in small supporting roles by Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn, and Harry Lennix. (Ben Affleck as a rising star politician and off-and-on prime suspect is the weak link in an otherwise impressive cast.) Director Kevin Macdonald has made a well-paced and suspenseful film. As the investigation draws closer to the truth there is a palpable sense of danger lurking in every shadow. A nail-biter sequence of Crowe’s reporter stalked in an underground parking garage by the killer whose hideout he has stumbled upon causes me to hope Macdonald will make a straight-out thriller next.
Special features are deleted scenes and a featurette on the making of the film.
Other new releases this week: Sin Nombre, Sugar