Saturday, April 18, 2009
Assessing the "State of Play"
It has been a while since Russell Crowe had a real stellar performance in a movie, but this movie shows he is not losing his edge. Playing with an all star cast (especially the fabulous Helen Mirren) Crowe raises his game to the level of the story, and a very timely one as well. Here is a movie I can happily recommend which will actually make you think and pay attention (imagine that).
Remember Blackwater, the private defense subcontractor used by our previous administration to perform various tasks in Iraq? Well you should, because there was all sorts of bad stuff going down with those folks, and this movie in fact takes on the subject of mercenaries for hire, with the U.S. government as the employer. These folks make billions, meanwhile we barely pay our own soldiers a decent wage, and leave them in substandard hospitals when they come home--- shameful.
Anyway, this movie is not an ordinary thriller, not just because of the aforementioned theme, but also because of the timely discussion of the demise of hard news, both on TV and in the dying newspaper industry as well. Instead we have "MUFFY at 9 will discuss why she is mad as Hades about how little dog Froo Froo was stolen from a Hollywood car. What's the world coming to?" Or abrasive in your face shock commentator will foam at the mouth about how our country is being taken over by the "New World Order" (n.b. those words add up to 666 if you count in Roman numerals :). You get my point. Real journalism and hard news is dying--- and it is a story worth telling and complaining about, because real reporting is part of the life blood of democracy and the free spread of information. It has to do not merely with freedom of speech, but with the preservation of democracy, not to mention truth. Back to the movie.
This movie lasts 2 hours and 12 minutes, but you would never know it as it flies by there is so much suspense. Crowe plays an Irish American old school reporter, paired up with the new wave blogger (with a brain) played by Rachel McAdams. Mirren is the senior editor of the Washington Globe, a paper desperately trying to become profitable once more. Into the mix comes one Congressman Stephen Collins, a 'show horse' for his party who is tasked with being the lead on a Congressional hearing committee deciding whether a particular defense contractor company should be award billions in contracts to do our dirty work for us. Ben Affleck plays this role, and I have to say--- its the first time I've actually seen him do some acting of note, though he is completely outshone by Crowe and others in the film. The point is, he is better than adequate in this film, which is an improvement. There's some hope for him as an actor.
The story is set spinning in motion by the sudden death of Collins female aide, with who he was having an affair, suspicion is focused on Collins himself. But as it turns out, all is by no means as it seems, and the story plays out in some surprising ways, including an ending I certainly did not forsee, and you should go see.
Here is the summary of the plot from Universal---
Oscar® winner Russell Crowe leads an all-star cast in a blistering thriller about a rising congressman and an investigative journalist embroiled in a case of seemingly unrelated, brutal murders. Crowe plays D.C. reporter Cal McAffrey, whose street smarts lead him to untangle a mystery of murder and collusion among some of the nation’s most promising political and corporate figures in State of Play, from acclaimed director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland).
Handsome, unflappable U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is the future of his political party: an honorable appointee who serves as the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending. All eyes are upon the rising star to be his party’s contender for the upcoming presidential race. Until his research assistant/mistress is brutally murdered and buried secrets come tumbling out.
McAffrey has the dubious fortune of both an old friendship with Collins and a ruthless editor, Cameron (Oscar® winner Helen Mirren), who has assigned him to investigate. As he and partner Della (Rachel McAdams) try to uncover the killer’s identity, McAffrey steps into a cover-up that threatens to shake the nation’s power structures. And in a town of spin-doctors and wealthy politicos, he will discover one truth: when billions are at stake, no one’s integrity, love or life is ever safe. --© Universal Pictures
If you like thrillers at all, this is a good one to see. It is not a movie filled with sex and violence with a threadbare plot. Indeed, the challenge was to whittle the plot down to manageable size since it had been an eight part British mini-series. But the larger reason to go see this movie is because of the disturbing trends it points to in our culture--- the death of real journalism, and the disturbing rise of collusion between government and private contracts, in part coupled with the rise of the deleterious effect of lobbyists on our whole political process, including the assigning of lucrative defense contracts. I do not know what the answers are to these problems, but they are serious problems, and we need to care about them. Full merits to 'State of Play' for raising the right questions, even though it provides us with few answers, other than suggesting we should return to old school reporting and news.