I’ll preface this by saying that I feel writing this review is somewhat of a conflict of interest. Not that I know anyone that had to do with its production. But as a member of the print media, I feel as if this film was made especially for me.
“State of Play” is a reasonably tight, entertaining thriller, a competent knockoff of the great journalism movies of yore (“All the President’s Men,” obviously, “The Pelican Brief,” “Absence of Malice,” etc.) In certain moments it’s also a surprisingly tender elegy to the rapidly changing print journalism industry (stay for the ending credits, which has shots of working print presses while CCR’s “Long As I Can See the Light” wails melancholically in the background.)
Mainly, though, “State of Play” is more or less simply an opportunity for journalism nerds to indulge in their worst impulses and desires. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray
Starring: Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren
Seen at: AMC Loew’s Boston Common
What journalist in their heart of hearts wouldn’t want to be Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe), the hard-bitten investigative journalist who bribes, steals and illegally tapes his way to the top of a story? McCaffrey is old-school; he detests internet journalism and its ilk, he types on a 16-year-old computer and daily risks being sued and/or jailed in pursuit of The Truth. He’s thrown together with a chirpy, no-nonsense and unfortunately named cub reporter, Della (Rachel McAdams), after a story breaks surrounding a Congressman (Ben Affleck), his mistress who dies mysteriously and a corrupt Blackwater-esque military contractor. Then the fun begins.
The film may be chock-full of Blackberries, blogs, and references to the War on Terror, but nonetheless there’s something lovingly dated about the whole setup. Besides Crowe and Adams doing the “His Girl Friday” routine, we get a bunch of jaded, wise-guy co-workers (a fabulous trio of Michael Weston, Rob Benedict and Josh Mostel) and the coup de grace: McCaffrey’s Dragon Lady editor Cameron (Helen Mirren) in a role that trumps “The Queen,” because Queen Elizabeth never got to use the phrase “Fuck you very much.”
Not surprisingly, it’s Mirren who steals the show. Her role as it’s written is a complete clichƒ©, of course, but Mirren goes about it with a razor-sharp glint in her eye; this woman’s been a member of a resolute boy’s club for many years, and it has pissed her off. Even picking up the phone and dialing a number is imbued with passion and barely-controlled tremor of rage. I loved her. I wanted to be her.
There’s a lot of good stuff in here, despite the fact that the plot has that cheesy, ripped-from-the-headlines aura that plagues so many thrillers today. Besides Mirren, we get Crowe, who always turns out at least a decent performance, and Jason Bateman.
Yes, that Jason Bateman.
He plays a sleazy PR guy. A sleazy PR guy who does uppers. It’s just … it’s just awesome, especially by the time he appears, you’ve relaxed and begun to ignore the glaring inconsistencies of the plot, the ridiculous twists and the fact that at the end of the day none of these journalists would have jobs after what they’d done for The Truth. When Bateman appears, you are ready to watch McCaffrey bully him in a sleazy hotel room until he cracks. You’re ready to hide information from the police and ignore codes of ethics. Because you’re a journalist too, dammit! Just as in “All the President’s Men,” which created a huge influx of journalism students looking to bring down a president of their very own, “State of Play” let’s the public, and the lithograph, be the hero.