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A Pleasant Throw Back to Early Pressburger/Powell Espionage and a Pakula Classic
8/10 Whether you loved em' or hated em', espionage thrillers made up a generous portion of cinema from the 1940-50's. With fast paced, edge of your seat story lines, plot twists, political undertones and dramatic personal struggles with morality, nobody did it better than Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell. Their attention to character detail and it's purpose in conjunction with the narrative gave heart and humanity to this new string of movies which could have fallen into similar (yet shallower) alpha male characters such as James Bond. Never the less, we cannot forget that ultimately if it weren't for their vision and invention of the genre, Hollywood may have never capitalized on the staggeringly profitable Bond franchise that's still going strong today.5 years ago
In the mid 70's, due to the heat of the political environment at that time, the genre decided to go in the same direction. All The Presidents Men, brought to light the investigative strategies of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and tackled the Watergate scandal from the perspective of the Washington Post. As audiences, we shared in the thrill of being able to follow the case as it unfolded, interviewing witnesses and piecing together clues in order to make a 10 O'clock print deadline. We were part of the chase, the scandal and always privy to the evidence necessary to solve the mystery at hand...that is until a new piece of evidence arose and bashed in all of our original assumptions.
State of Play may be the first film to pay homage to this Pakula classic while dually creating more poignant themes for today's political atmosphere. Crowe plays a reporter for the Washington Post and McAdams, an internet blogger, serving as our Woodward and Bernstein clones on the case of a Senator, Affleck, whose mistress succumbs to a rather untimely death VIA train tracks. To add insult to injury, it turns out that our reporter and senator are practically best friends. The plot unfolds, relationships falter and the real truth, to our pleasant surprise, blindsides us like a drunk driver on a narrow road.
Director Kevin Macdonald clearly knows what he's doing here and along with a well written screenplay by Tony Gilroy, carefully crafts a neat, sharp and extremely entertaining thrill ride of a movie whose run time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, but feels like 30. State of Play never fails at keeping you guessing, does a fine job of throwing in a few curve balls, and leaves you with a clean taste in your mouth come end credits. What more do you want? Sure. It isn't the next Best Picture and Crowe won't take home an Oscar, but you'll enjoy some nail biting action scenes and there are much worse things to look at than Rachel McAdams on the big screen for a few hours.
Helen Mirren is delightful in what little screen time she is given. Affleck is "good", although decided to play it completely safe in a role that even he really can't screw up. Lets face it, he needed to gain even a small amount of points since Hollywoodland and the flops that followed in his footsteps.
Overall, you'll be as pleased and refreshed as I was to see a picture that has the finesse of an espionage thriller, the entertainment value of an All The Presidents Men political drama and the edginess that we should expect from a modern day piece of cinema that doesn't star Miley Cyrus.
Yesterday's News Still Blog-Worthy
7/10 A gruff old-school reporter (Russell Crowe playing his A-game) becomes personally entangled in a breaking news story surrounding his old college buddy turned congressman (Ben Affleck, not as bad as you would think) and a young female aid who died under mysterious circumstances in the surprisingly plausible political thriller "State of Play" from director Kevin MacDonald who was previously responsible for "The Last King of Scotland". Though designed as a throw-back to paranoid investigative thrillers from the 1970's, relevance is gained when the massive cover-up revealed becomes a vehicle for the filmmakers to explore the death of print news at the hand of digital mediums.5 years ago
The twisty and engaging screenplay is credited to three scribes: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray. But it's Gilroy's fingerprints that shape the story with all the overlapping dialogue and conspiracy talk that will remind many of his "Michael Clayton". Adapted from a sprawling BBC miniseries created by Paul Abbott, the trio is especially deft in their condensing of the story into a fully digestible two hours. Even as new characters and twists keep coming, the audience is never left out in the cold. They also give the cast plenty to chew on with some great throw-away lines amidst all the posturing between the cops, reporters, politicians and sleaze-bags.
Though it's Crowe and Helen Mirren as his sparring and quick-witted boss who shine the most, this is essentially an ensemble piece, and it's especially clever when Jason Bateman arrives on screen for a few pivotal scenes as a smug public relations guru who's too dumb to realize he knows too much. The cast also includes Robin Wright Penn as Affleck's wife, Jeff Daniels as the arrogant majority whip and Harry Lennix, who as a D.C. detective makes a compelling case here for the lead role in the Barack Obama Story. The only miscalculation in the casting is poor Rachel McAdams, lovely but annoying in her high-pitch as Crowe's blogging tag-along looking to kick it old-school and get something in print.
By the third act "State of Play" overplays its hand in its attempts to be timely with too much talk of the privatization of the military, Capitol Hill sex scandals and traditional newspapers losing out in the digital age to bloggers more concerned with gossip than real journalism. It could've also been more subtle in its preaching about the importance of serious investigative reporting. It should be commended, however, for an otherwise smart screenplay that doesn't spell out all its twists and turns too early and the well polished cast who give the film a slick sheen. Even though it might be reporting on yesterday's news, "State of Play" still makes for solid rainy day entertainment and is worthy of blogging about.
A solid and interesting old-fashioned political thriller
8/10 Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is helping with the government investigation of a shady military-based company when he receives word that his mistress has committed suicide. Visually distraught, he leaves a hearing in tears and sets off a media circus. Seasoned reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) was his roommate in college, and the two have remained friends. In a bid to quash the political blogging of junior reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), McAffrey sets out to find the truth about the story.5 years ago
State of Play sets itself up early on to be a cookie-cutter, predictable thriller. But as the film progresses, it rather quickly becomes the twisty and conniving thriller it needs to be. Despite being heavily dialogue driven, the film is an intense ride that will keep people on edge throughout. Some scenes are downright terrifying in their amped up suspense and political intrigue. This film really set out to be tense, and succeeds wonderfully. It knows just what punches to pull, and when to pull them.
The script, written by political scribes Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilory and Billy Ray, is insight and intriguing. It could have easily been made boring and inundated with rehashed politicalisms (like all of their last films), but this film revels in how interesting it becomes. It has laughs strung throughout (a genuine surprise), and lacks the nerve to become loaded to the brim with facts and innuendos. Instead, it expertly weaves between scenes, amping up the intensity of some scenes, and downplaying others.
But this is mainly due to the incredible performances by the cast. Crowe (who I usually loathe) and Affleck are simply outstanding in their roles. Age issues aside, both play their character with finesse and charisma. Affleck looks and acts like a confused wet-behind-the-ears, gunning-for-higher-office political pawn from beginning to end. Some of the reactions on his face are downright devastating in how excellently they are conveyed. And this is a guy critics once said could not act. Coupled with one-two shot of acting in Hollywoodland and directing Gone Baby Gone, we may be seeing a renewed resonance and importance for the Oscar-winner. Crowe on the other hand, delivers his strongest performance in years. While he has been downplayed and underused in his last few films, he carries this film. He is stubborn and vaguely likable, but he makes his character work for all of his idiosyncrasies and ethically-questionable tactics. He makes a seasoned journalist look like an amateur.
McAdams, all but a ghost recently, holds her own against the two heavy-hitters and delivers a performance that is both inspired and emotional. It gives her a lot of room to act, and she delivers in every instance. The rest of the cast is a bit mixed however, as so little of them is given that much to do. Harry Lennix, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, the horrifying Michael Berresse and especially Jason Bateman, all deliver noteworthy performances, but never get to really shine in them. They all have their traits and motivations, but get little screen time to truly express them. They each are developed quite strongly, but they lack the movement afforded to Crowe, Affleck and McAdams. I simply loved Helen Mirren's scenery-gauging editor and all of her subtleties. But she too, is downplayed to the point of almost barely being in the film.
Despite its intensity, the film is bogged down by its dialogue-heavy scenes and consistent character additions. It is easy to keep track of everyone, but so many people are introduced that the film loses its focus on more than one occasion. It makes for a few scenes that are merely filler between the scenes of useful heavy acting. It just feels so tiring. I understand now how daunting a task it must have been to convert six hours of British television into a 127-minute film, but there are scenes that are just too easy to not have been cut out (some entire mildly useful subplots may have helped). Adding characters in makes sense for a story about two journalists frantically searching to lift the lid on a story, but there needs to be more emphasis on what was needed and not needed. A brilliant montage in the middle of the film goes almost entirely to waste because the filmmakers lack the knowledge of what should be cut. Limiting the preposterous and silly climax could have also done wonders. The scenes that are left in the film (including the finale) are great, but they could have been stronger if they were as tightly wound as the film wants itself to be. A little less shaky hand camera movement could have also significantly benefited the film.
Even with its problems, it is clear from the on-set of the first shot in the bullpen at the Washington Globe that the filmmakers are going for a very keen sense of homage to All the President's Men. While the on-going and very professional relationship between McAffrey and Frye is very similar to Woodward and Bernstein, the fabric of journalistic integrity and researching are the core of State of Play. The film is loaded with allusions to the Oscar-winning film, and even mimics shots right out of the film. While it is obvious for anyone who has seen Men, this film's nods are done in such a delicate and unique way that they never become distracting or blatant. The film is its own, and does not ever feel like it is living in its big-brother's shadow. It is a fresh take on old-fashioned reporting in a very digital age, and frequently walks the tight line of old versus new.
State of Play looked interesting, and surprisingly delivers on almost every count. It is not a perfect film, but it is a solid example of great film-making. It wants to be more, but seems content at being a twisty and suspenseful modern thriller.
State Of Play scores high points
9/10 You have to see this movie. I am not playing any games here. If you want to see a classic style movie that is cunning, interesting and lets you have fun with your imagination, you have to see this movie.5 years ago
In the waning years of the newspaper industry, we see a very classy Helen Mirren play a "Devil wears Prada"-ish editor who runs The Washington Globe. Overpowering his boss(with charm and experience, of course), Russell Crowe is the very type of gutsy(almost brave) newspaper reporter that anyone who wanted to be in his shoes can admire. And yet he teams up with a Globe blogger(Rachel McAdams) who dares to see herself as his equal(and she really is). Crowe's and McAdams' characters brilliantly investigate a deadly situation tainted with national intrigue that includes the young yet powerfully influential Stephen Collins played by Ben Affleck.
I was on the edge of my seat most of the time, thrilled with this actual adventure in the city without any fear of cartoons or ray guns spoiling the appearance of authenticity. Movies like this are made so rarely, it was almost sad to leave the theater. I will see it again this weekend for sure.
I give it a high 9 and now I will try to get the BBC Miniseries version of State Of Play for comparison's sake which stars my favorite BBC TV star who I enjoyed as Sam Tyler on the BBC's Life On Mars (which had a better appeal than the US version).
State of Play, see the feature film, but be sure to see the BBC miniseries, too
7/10 I attended a pre-release screening of the new film, State of Play, with anticipation of seeing both quality work from actor Russell Crowe and screenwriter Tony Gilroy. I also entered the theater with a degree of apprehension about how well this feature length film would measure up to the brilliantly acted and crafted six-part BBC series that was the basis for the film. Crowe well-embodied the tenacious old-school investigative journalist that we've come to know from classics, such as "All the President's Men." However, the multifaceted ensemble of journalists, portrayed by a rich range of actors from the BBC series (John Simm, Kelly MacDonald, James McAvoy), is missing from this feature film where Russell Crowe does all the work. The complexity of the plot, which includes the competing professional interests and emotional needs of the characters in the British miniseries, is largely eliminated in this big screen version. Ben Affleck and Robin Wright Penn do not seem to appreciate and respond to the high stakes events that could turn their lives inside out and upside down. What this film shares with the miniseries is the glimpse into the mechanics of running a journalistic investigation under the pressure of time and editorial interference, but the personal stories suffer from not being fleshed out and made to feel real and compelling to watch. It is not fair to compare one piece of art to another, but when two productions are related, and you've seen the original, it is difficult to view the second production without prejudice. It is like trying to unring a bell.5 years ago
The new film, State of Play, is a convincing thriller, but it fails to also deliver as a richly defined character drama.
Curiosity will drive those who saw the BBC series to see this film, and the rich pedigree of the film production will draw in those who know nothing about the original miniseries. Everyone will ultimately be satisfied by seeing both productions (miniseries is on DVD) so that they can make the comparisons and connections that any thinking film-goer will want to do.