“State of Play” features a roster of esteemed talent both in front of and behind the camera, so there was some measure of hope that the film would be decent.
Director Kevin MacDonald helmed “Last King of Scotland,” which was nominated for an Oscar for Forest Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin.
Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan (“Lions for Lambs”), Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”), and Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass”) all contributed to the script. Each has demonstrated an ability to create finely crafted dialogue and strong storylines.
“State of Play,” based on a BBC television show that aired in 2003, is a contemporary morality tale set against the backdrop of corporate greed, Capital Hill politics, and the 24-hour news cycle that feeds on the ups and downs of politicians in Washington, D.C.
The political thriller shines a light on the issue of privatization of military services and the dangerous possibility that companies are working right now to take over all military and police services both abroad and at home. It’s also a commentary on the changing face of the daily newsroom. As print papers struggle for readers, the fast-and-loose blogosphere continues its rampant growth while bending the rules of journalistic ethics.
The cast is led by Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren, with support from Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, and Jeff Daniels.
Crowe delivers a marginal performance, but his style is so natural that even a mediocre performance by him is still pretty good. Mirren and Bateman, who both have limited screen time, are the true stand-outs.
The problem is Crowe and Affleck play their roles by the numbers, relying heavily on agreed-upon physical stereotypes to help establish their characters. Crowe, who plays a seasoned investigative reporter for a daily newspaper in D.C., is overweight, has long hair and a generally sloppy style. He drives an old car filled with fast food wrappers and junk food. His apartment is cluttered and he makes mashed potatoes from a box.
Affleck, in the role of a junior Congressman, is clean-shaven, well-dressed and handsome. His perfect hair cut and square jaw are just what Americans love in their politicians. He’s channeling John F. Kennedy Jr. for sure.
Crowe and Affleck do what they can with the characters they are given and it’s more the fault of the writers that such cliché stereotypes were used. “State of Play” is an example of a movie where the collaborative efforts of the writers and director—who had each on their own created exceptional pieces work—amounted to just a mediocre movie. A richer experience could be had by watching “Last King of Scotland,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Michael Clayton,” and “Shattered Glass.”