Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams & Helen Mirren
Director: Kevin Macdonald

Director Macdonald successfully revives the 1970s-style paranoid thriller with State Of Play, a taut and assured reworking of the 2003 BBC series of the same name. Paring down the original six-hour series to a lean 127 minutes, Macdonald and screenwriters Carnahan, Gilroy and Ray barely give the audience a moment to breathe as a veteran reporter and a doe-eyed blogger race through the streets of Washington, D.C., to uncover an ominous political conspiracy.

The story gets under way with two seemingly unrelated incidents: the morning after a low-level drug dealer and a pizza deliveryman are gunned down in a dark alley, a congressman's aide is pushed in front of a moving subway train. When the latter is reported as a suicide by the media, speculations of foul play begin to emerge after the aide's boss, rising U.S. congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck), tearfully announces her death on live television. Collins' old college roommate is Cal McAffrey (Crowe), a reporter for the Washington Globe, who openly resents the preferential treatment given to inexperienced underlings likeWashington Globe Capitol Hill blogger Della Frye (McAdams). As the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending, Congressman Collins is currently on a campaign against rogue government contractors profiting from the "Muslim terror gold rush" abroad. Beholden to no one, these contractors seem increasingly poised to make their presence known in the U.S., where they are gradually gaining a foothold. When McAffrey discovers that the deceased aide was in fact Congressman Collins' primary researcher in the case against the government contractors, suspicions of conspiracy lead him on a treacherous investigation pointing to corruption at the highest levels of government.

State Of Play is the kind of thriller that starts with a bang and throws in enough twists to tie your brain in knots as the layers of deception are stripped away to pose some genuinely frightening questions: Are we already at the point where independent defense contractors can gun down American citizens within the U.S. without fear of repercussion? If so, how could this have happened while U.S. citizens remain fatally unaware? And what could entice soldiers who once defended their country abroad to now set their crosshairs on innocent Americans? Is it really all about the money?

While the primary players are all in top form, it's supporting performances by Mirren, Penn and Bateman that make State Of Play compulsively watchable. Bateman in particular injects the film with a healthy dose of humor and energy in the third act, when he appears in the role of a pill-head PR agent who could hold the key to blowing the entire investigation wide open. A rare treat for cinema lovers starved for the days when scruffy newspaper reporters fearlessly sniffed out corruption, State Of Play delivers the kind of conspiratorial thrills that would have made Pakula proud. (127 mins.)

My Rating: ***1/2

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