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STATE OF PLAY (2009) ***** movie review by SEBASTIAN

Posted on April 19th, 2009
Posted on April 19th, 2009


Director Kevin Macdonald scores a homerun with this tale of Capital Hill conspiracy and intrigue. Macdonald’s “Last King of Scotland” failed to impress me, but State of Play is the real deal: a thriller with teeth and enough story to keep you thinking well after the last frame rolls. If you like films like “All the President’s Men” and “The Insider”, then this film is for you.

U.S. Senator Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is forced to turn to old friend and reporter Cal McAffrey for help after the death of an aide exposes a personal conflict that threatens to pull his world apart. As pieces of seemingly unrelated stories collide with one another Cal realizes that he has more on his hands here than an old friend that needs reassurance. Reluctantly teaming with young but ambitious rookie reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) , the pair start down a slippery slope of corporate greed, espionage, and murder on their way to the shattering truth.

The cast performs exceptionally well and the script sizzles. Rachel McAdams does a fine job here, but I thought she might have been miscast. Nevertheless she plays very well with Crowe, who owns the film. Helen Mirren gives exceptional support as their tough as nails editor. I am almost never disappointed by Mirren; truly one of our greatest actresses. When I saw her name in the cast it really elevated my hopes for the film. Everything she touches turns to gold. All the actors are helped out by a truly brilliant script that recalls some of the best suspense films of the Seventies in its tone and focus. Hardly a minute passes without another explosive twist or character insight. Writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy (Michael Collins), and Billy Ray give us one of the most surprising treats of the year: an innovative, fresh and well-paced thriller. Released later in the year, I really think this would be a serious Oscar-contender. As it is people may forget by awards season.

There is a lot of style on display here. The cinematography and set design are first-rate and one could not hope for direction more deft than this. Macdonald juggles drama and suspense with the greatest of ease. This is a film that makes it all look so easy. This movie recalls the best work of Michael Mann and Syndney Lumet. There are so many layers to this story. I think it works best as a political thriller first and foremost, but there is also quite a bit of superb drama going on here too. This is one of Ben Affleck’s best roles ever. He uses everything he’s got to make the role his own. I think he’s growing into an actor who has the chops (finally) to bring a type of grace and dignity to the silver screen. Now he’s in the class of Crowe and Clooney, if not DiCaprio.

If you missed Billy Ray’s “Breach” or Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Collins” give them a look-see. The depth of those films is definitely on display here. All of these films are extremely intellectual with a strong streak of vintage drama and intrigue, delivered mostly in subtle hues that set the tone for the contrast of a tension-filled, life or death struggle that always seems to sneak up on you. In “Michael Collins” there is a good deal of poetry that emerges through the plot. While that level of poetic character realization isn’t present in “State of Play”, it’s been replaced by a sense of urgency and relevancy that I found to be impressive. The film is ultimately moving, entertaining, brainy, and very serious. In a stroke of genius effort to give some levity to the proceedings, Jason Bateman plays a key figure in the cover-up whose lines and delivery are hilarious. He comes across as a real character though, not just a two-dimensional guy thrown in to spice it up. I thought the placement worked just right. There is a lot of character depth that rings true.

The lovely Robin Wright Penn deserves mention here as well. As the conflicted wife of Senator Collins, she brings an extra layer of support that helps to deepen the emotional impact here.

I hope you’ll check this film out and recommend it to those who love intelligent thrillers that recall a time in cinema long gone. Movies like this are a dying breed. Let’s revive them.

5 out of 5 stars

Trailer below…

-Sebastian

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