Saturday, April 25, 2009

State of Play (****)

State of Play.  118 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Kevin Macdonald.  Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray.  Starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright-Penn, and Jason Bateman. 

State of Play is a thrilling deft and surprisingly fast-paced film that always stays a step or two ahead of the audience.  It's a smart movie, featuring terrific direction from Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland) and great performances from Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, and in a memorable supporting role, Jason Bateman.  It's nice to see Affleck continue his streak of respectability, and it's also nice to see Crowe back in form (though certainly not physically - he's let himself go a bit here) after his throwaway performance in last year's disappointing Body of Lies.  State of Play is based on a British six-hour miniseries, and though the movie runs less than two hours, it's jam-packed with political intrigue and a relevant dissection of the future of reporting and newspaper viability.  I haven't seen the original miniseries, but I have to think the writers (including Tony Gilroy of Bourne and Michael Clayton and Billy Ray of Breach and Shattered Glass) did a nice job of adapting it here because nothing feels forced or rushed or given short-shrift.  Affleck plays a congressman whose aide is mysteriously killed.  His college roommate is Crowe, an old school newspaper columnist tracking the story with the help of a new-wave blogger played by Rachel McAdams (back on screen after a long absence).  As is the case with most movies of this ilk, nothing is what it seems and nobody tells the whole truth.  This is a classy production through and through, and it relies more on character interaction and development for its thrills rather than a ton of action.  There are flaws - the supposed bad guy constantly has an "evil" look about him, and not all of the twists and turns are satisfyingly played out - but overall, it's one worth seeing in theaters.



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