Tuesday, April 21, 2009

State of Play

Russell Crowe is back. After watching him in a thoroughly disappointing Body of Lies, and especially his small role in that film, I wondered if his career is over. And especially with that added weight he put on. But he is definitely here in State of Play, including that extra poundage.

But extra pounds work for a newspaper reporter who spends hours at his desk, pounding out the next story. He's slovenly, long hair that may or may not have been washed within the last week. A jacket that's been used far too many years. A world-weary but charming smile.

He knows all the tricks. He knows how to talk to security guards, medical examiners (neat little part played by Viola Davis, lately of Doubt), hospital nurses. He can't afford to pay them anything, so it has to be all charm. And he knows how to weasle a line from a source by promising just enough. We sense right away he's a great reporter. And who better to play the role than Russell Crowe, who can lift an eyebrow imperceptibly to tell us just what he thinks of a blogging reporter.

When there are two unrelated deaths -- a petty thief and a congressman's research assistant -- Cal McAffrey starts putting more than two and two together, that leads him deep into a conspiracy. He teams with a young rookie writer, a blogger, no less, by the name of Della (Rachel McAdams), who learns, firstly, that she can't print a story without corroborating it. And at the end Cal has to figure out whether this story, this conspiracy, is worth risking his life, and maybe selling his soul, to uncover it.

This movie was a lot of fun from beginning to end. The cast is first-rate even if you wonder if they made the right choices (they did): Helen Mirren as a newspaper editor who is learning how to deal with a new world where newspapers are not king, Ben Affleck as an up-and-coming congressman, and Robin Wright Penn as his wife.

And, speaking of newspapers, this is the first movie we've seen that acknowledges the predicament of the modern-day newspaper. It's in danger of becoming a dinosaur, and it's also being taken over by those who watch the bottom line. That story actually propels part of the plot in State of Play.

But I hate the name. Turns out, there was a British version of the movie over 15 years ago. I can't imagine that it was as much fun as this one.

Thumb's up.

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