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April 19, 2009

State of Play: Played out

I regret to inform you that "State of Play" is a thoroughly mediocre movie in every respect.

Cal McAffrey (Russel Crowe) and Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) are newspaper reporters investigating the death of a 25-year-old Capitol Hill staffer who was having an affair with her boss, Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). Collins is trying to make his name investigating a shadowy private military contractor based on Blackwater.

Director Kevin McDonald seems to want a pat on the back for recycling as many journalism movie cliches as possible including the grizzled disheveled old newsman who's not afraid to cut a few corners to get the scoop, the dewy cub reporter, and the hard-assed editor with a heart of gold. Now that we expect newspapers to die, those cliches are supposed to be cool and retro, but newspaper nostalgia can't carry this movie.

Crowe delivers a solid performance. I can't fault Rachel McAdams' acting, but her character is a waste of space. Della Frye is supposed to be the paper's political gossip blogger who learns to be a real reporter at the foot of the master. Cal starts by knocking her down a few pegs for writing nothing but snark and opinion. Except that Della is neither snarky, nor opinionated. She doesn't have many distinguishing characteristics at all.

Ben Affleck is wooden and unconvincing as a Gulf War I hero turned crusading congressman. It's hard to believe that golden boy Stephen Collins and frumpy Cal McAffery were ever friends and Affleck's acting doesn't help.

Michael Berresse is suitably creepy as hitman Robert Bingham and Sarah Lord is compelling as a teenage junkie tipster.

Not to give anything away, but the plotting is so clunky and haphazard that the ending feels like a giant bait-and-switch. It's as if the writers got so enthralled with the documenting process of reporting that they didn't bother to think through the details of the underlying scandal the reporters were supposed to be investigating. 

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Comments

This makes me sad. Especially to know that Ben Affleck was wooden and unconvincing. What happened, Ben? I guess not every movie can be Gigli.

Haven't seen it, but I thought Della Frye was supposed to be, not a hard-hitting journalist, but a blogger, gossipy and superficial, in desperate need of an ethics panel. Loosely based on....?

thoroughly mediocre ... in every respect.

I can say that in two words: Bed Affleck.

Affleck's name will forever be associated with that Jiggly movie.

The idea of the use of cliches in media, literature, movies especially has a certain irony. We are always told to avoid stereotypes and not to judge a book by its cover (the whole Susan Boyle thing makes that point nicely). but it seems tobe used, or over used in story telling.

In fact we can't seem to communicate without resorting to "stereotypes" and cliches to use a a sort of short hand to convey a whole lot. We read people by the way the look and dress and movies cast people with the same principles in mind.

One feeling I almost always come away with from American Cinenma, especially is that it a series of stereotypes and cliches strung to together to tell a story we usually have heard a million times.

However, when a author or director, cinematographer goes the other route, we tend to NOT believe it because it is so outside the normal and expected and it reads as pure fantasy.

We ascribe code for everything, bling, caps, heels, jeans, skirts, trousers, sneakers, cars, bags, uniforms, hairstyles, make up, body types, voice, elocution and so on and so on. We can't escape them and most of us seem to embrace them to establish out place in the pecking order.

No?

How wrong you are. State of Play is fantastically acted and the story is tense, exciting and thought provoking. Ben really rose to the occasion, and Crowe is so believable as Cal... he inhabits the character, making us feel his conflicts.

It sounds to me as if we saw different movies.

I agree, Sander, there's a certain amount of narrative shorthand that goes into all storytelling--perhaps especially in movies where you have to show a lot more than you tell.

In that case, part of the art of storytelling is making your material feel fresh even though it's not. SOP didn't reach that level of artistry.

Ken, I think you're right that Della's is loosely based on Wonkette, or at least her character's job description is. The problem is, they don't follow that up in the writing. She's supposed to be a snarky blogger with way too much attitude--but she's bland and meek. They don't give her many good zingers. Obviously, the writers did a lot of research to portray a newspaper reporter. Clearly, they want to make the fact that Della's a blogger into an important contrast in the movie, but if that was their aim, they should have thought more about how a blogger might actually react to being submerged in a major print investigation.

Lindsay did you just start doing movie reviews or have you been doing them for awhile? I had thought that was a one time thing because of the subject matter in the Appatow film.

It's kind of a new thing. Mostly, I've resolved to go to the movies more often. But now that I'm going, it's grist for the blog.

Ouch, hope you keep your movie receipts and use them as a tax deduction!

You guessed the other reason. :)

I haven't seen this version and from your review I won't bother. I highly recommend watching the British original series (its six hour-long episodes). Well shot and a gripping story line. The torrent's on line.

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