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Movie Review

State of Play

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When Brad Pitt drops out of a major motion picture just four days before production is set to begin, it could be a complete disaster. But in the case of State of Play, it turned out to be a blessing — mainly because replacement star Russell Crowe has turned in his best performance since the heyday of A Beautiful Mind and The Insider. Crowe, about 30 pounds overweight and sporting long, straggly hair, nails the essence of a seasoned investigative journalist at a fading big-city newspaper who is assigned a story about the mysterious death of a congressman's assistant and soon stumbles into a governmental cover-up that's much bigger than he ever could have imagined.
Old-fashioned in the best sense of Hollywood craftsmanship and filmmaking, this Americanized version of the popular 2003 six-hour British miniseries is reminiscent of such 1970s classics as All the President's Men and The Parallax View. Director Kevin Macdonald clearly intended it that way: Look for his homage to President's Men in particular. Working with a script from superstar writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Billy Ray, and Tony Gilroy, along with uncredited contributions from Frost/Nixon's Peter Morgan, Macdonald has created a potboiler of a political thriller that involves deception, scandal, sex, and secrets. The film is set in Washington, D.C., where a promising congressman (Ben Affleck) who runs a key defense-spending committee is caught up in subsequent investigation into the death of his beautiful assistant, with whom he was having an affair. Complicating matters, his old friend Cal McAffrey (Crowe) is assigned to the story and uncovers a lot more than either bargained for.
Aside from splendid widescreen lensing, epic sets, terrific direction, and smart scripting, the joy of this blessedly adult drama is the all-star actors who kill in their parts. Working beautifully alongside Crowe is Rachel McAdams as a rookie reporter and arrogant blogger who must partner with the grizzled vet, as the online and print divisions of the failing (fictional) Washington Globe collide. She projects just the right combination of self-confidence and vulnerability to make the odd coupling work. Helen Mirren hits it out of the park as the tough-talking publisher who is more concerned with turning a profit for her new owners than with supporting her editorial team's seemingly out-of-touch journalistic standards. Throwing off lines like, "We have new owners now, Cal, and they are interested in sales, not discretion," she summarizes the conflicted situation most newspapers find themselves in these days. Affleck is well-cast as the troubled congressman; Robin Wright Penn is effective as his unhappy wife. Especially fine as a conservative politician is Jeff Daniels, who gets to show a different side of his talents in a couple of juicy scenes. The film is stolen, however, by Jason Bateman as a super-slimy P.R. guy who knows too much and is eventually forced to spill the beans in a key sequence that represents the actor's best screen work to date; it's the essence of what "supporting" is all about.
For those in search of intelligent, robustly entertaining entertainment designed for grown-ups, the milk train stops here.

Genre: Drama
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Billy Ray, Tony Gilroy
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, Viola Davis

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