State of Play (2009).

D: Kevin Macdonald. DP: Rodrigo Prieto W: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy & Billy Ray. Starring: Russell Crowe/Ben Affleck/Rachel McAdams/Helen Mirren/Robin Wright Penn/Jason Bateman/Jeff Daniels/Viola Davis. (NOTE: Based on the BBC Series by Paul Abbot).

Are you ready? Quickly now…name all the actors in this film and three other films, of considerable scale, that the actors have been in. 1…2…3…GO!

Oh. Did you get stuck? A bit too much? Alas, don’t worry, it has happened before.

Yes, as you now know, the danger with a starlit ensemble cast is most often that the film falls flat. The actors superseding the story so much that we hardly remember what happened as faces and talent overwhelm the frame. State of Play embraces its seasoned cast, giving the helm to Crowe’s galumphing, grump and greasy Cal, a man so in tune with his journalistic self he is out of tune with the rising tides of online journalism. Crowe falls easily into Mirren’s Washington Globe world, followed efficiently by McAdams’ Della Frye, online blogger and junior journalist on the story. The story being a scandal, a scandal involving (har-har) politicians. And in this case it’s none other than Crowe’s friend Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) who’s in the hot seat.

Spiraling off of a metro accident that kills the lead researcher on Affleck’s team that is investigating a private corporation, State of Play weaves issues of American government, corporations and homeland security into a plot that is so desperate to distract us from the fact that if said researcher hadn’t also been doing some private ‘research’ of her own with Affleck, none of this would have matter. Then again, do sex scandals even matter in the grand scheme of things? In the film they do, as Affleck’s affair reveals who’s also having sneaky bed meetings up on the hill. Speaking of the hill, the film is shot well, keeping a solid pace while being able to use our capitol city to build suspense. State of Play even keeps us on the hot seat as Crowe acts more like a cop than a journalist. But you have to love his initiative as it uncovers gems like Bateman’s Dominic, who proves that talent can really flesh out and balance a story.

And on a side note, not only did Crowe’s Cal apparently go to college with Affleck’s Stephen, but they were roommates. I am all for stretching the imagination, but it is hard to believe that the 36 year old Affleck would room with the 45 year old Crowe (but hey it’s just my recollection that college kids tend to stick with their age groups). And even if this is irrelevant to you, it’s hard to believe in Affleck’s baby-faced politician, he holds little gravitas and is the main casting choice I found most disappointing.

Lastly, although some might claim the political thriller is being slowly evicted from theaters, having apparently lost its audiences, I feel the intellectual frenzy it provides will always share a home with popcorn flicks, even if its popularity mostly resides in rentals. In an ever changing political climate, where the United States is consistently under the figurative and literal lens of the media, it is only natural that the cinematic lens is given it’s shot. Additionally, despite a possible lack of ‘foreign’ market appeal, State of Play reinterates the concept that films are meant for niche audiences, not everyone.

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