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April 22, 2009 > Movie Review: State of Play - A taut thriller that delivers

Movie Review: State of Play - A taut thriller that delivers

By Joe Samagond

"State of Play" (2009) is a superb suspense thriller that spans Washington politics, the military-industrial complex and a dying newspaper.

Based on a popular BBC 6-hour miniseries (2003) by Paul Abbott, this efficient, and admirably coherent thriller has reporters digging down to where politics and murder meet in the nation's capital. There is a wistful air about it as regards the fourth estate at a time when newspapers across the country are shutting down or downsizing. There is also a sense of the "Watergate" scandal in which the investigative newspaper is represented in this movie by the fictional 'Washington Globe'.

A petty thief is gunned down in an alley and a Congressman's assistant Sonia Baker, falls in front of a subway - two seemingly unrelated deaths. Sonia worked for rising U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), but circumstances soon force him to admit they were having an affair. If it were as simple as that, he and wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn) would soon be able to put it all behind them and move on with the traditional contrite press conference. But wisecracking, brash newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) capably sniffs out a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered.

He is ably, though initially reluctantly, supported by the paper's pert blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). With a turbulent past connected to the Congressman and the aid of the ambitious young rookie, Cal begins uprooting clues that lead him to a corporate cover-up full of insiders, brokers and assassins. When it is revealed, early on, that PointCorp, the film's fictional version of the Blackwater mercenary group, is planting its profiteering tentacles everywhere, we may think we have clearly figured out the bad guys. Except we haven't. The twists and turns continue until the very last minute.

Eschewing trendy mannerisms, director Kevin MacDonald ("The Last King of Scotland") makes sure the complicated action, the array of characters and a rapidly evolving plot remain clear enough to follow. Journalistic insiders or fans of the old style newspaper environ may get a kick out of newsroom scenes anachronistically crammed with busy, and apparently gainfully employed people.

McAdams is a lively presence and Affleck convincingly conveys the upright, professional bearing of his politico but appears stiff. Editor Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) does a good job exposing the commercial pressures brought on her the paper's new corporate owners. However she comes across as too preoccupied with it that she is barely able to function, reduced to pacing and fretting. Ultimately it is Crowe who delivers with a great performance and carries the movie past the finish line with aplomb.

For all its determined efforts to reflect the tenor of the current political and moral climate, "State of Play" is a satisfyingly old-fashioned entertainment and audiences looking for a good, intelligent thriller will find it in this movie.

Rated: PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content.

Runtime: 132 minutes

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