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Capone likes the feel of newsprint on his fingers...and STATE OF PLAY!!!

Published at: April 17, 2009, 9:43 a.m. CST by Capone

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Something that struck me almost immediately about the smart, complicated, and wholly satisfying STATE OF PLAY were the three men credited with the screenplay. Now, I have no idea whether these three collaborated in any way--I'm guessing not--but they are three screenwriters who have impressed me with their knowledge and means of telling convincing stories about journalists and those who occupy positions of power in our world. And the result of this carefully crafted screenplay (based on the much-praised BBC miniseries of the same name, which I have not seen but is sitting on my shelf ready to be watched very soon) is a tale that is more about the way in which even the purest forms of journalism can be influenced and less about simply a scandal and possible cover-up involving big business and corrupt politicians. But let's take a quick look at those screenwriters. Matthew Michael Carnahan wrote Peter Berg's THE KINGDOM and the Robert Redford incendiary LIONS FOR LAMBS. Tony Gilroy wrote the three Jason Bourne movies, as well as wrote and directed MICHAEL CLAYTON and the recently released, superb corporate espionage thriller DUPLICITY. Finally, Billy Ray wrote and directed probably the best film about journalists until STATE OF PLAY, a little film called SHATTERED GLASS; he also wrote the fantastic FBI drama Breach. Combine this braintrust under the clean and clear direction of Kevin Macdonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND), and State of Play might actually be one of those films that is so smart that it will scare audiences away. I hope to God I'm wrong, but it's getting really close to the summer movie season kicking in, and people are just about ready to switch their brains off. I hope State of Play is looked at as the final exam before the school doors fly open and the heavy drugs kick in. Russell Crowe packed on a few pounds to play seasoned DC newspaper man Cal McAffrey, who is slowly watching his beloved institution come under yet another new owner that puts profits over substantive writing and reporting. One thing his editor (played with the perfect copious amounts of cynicism by Helen Mirren, in her best role since THE QUEEN) has noticed is that the paper's online bloggers have been generating a lot of readers and revenue. The queen bee of the blog side of the paper is Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), who is a terrific writer but a terrible reporter. She values the scoop over getting the facts right the first time, and it drives Cal crazy. When a story breaks that a young woman working as a senior researcher for Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck, doing a great job of giving us equal parts creature of emotion and consummate politician) has been killed at a Metro station, the first reports on the blogosphere say that she was heartbroken after the married Collins broke off an affair and that she committed suicide. But the more Cal (who happens to be long-time friends with Collins) digs into both that story and a seemingly unrelated double murder in a less savory part of D.C., the more he begins to see pieces coming together is unexpected and unexplainable ways. He decides to use the clearly layered story as a teaching exercise for young Della and enlists her to help out with the reporting. The two make a pretty convincing team, and I appreciate that the filmmakers resisted the temptation to pair these two up romantically. It would have made for an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction from a story that demands our full attention. Going into too much detail about the plot from this point on would severely ruin the fun of watching it unfold and the many twists that the story takes. Yes, there are a few too many coincidences, and yes, it does seem like every lead Cal or Della find leads to something even more significant that the thing they were initially investigating (I would have liked at least one lead to dead end; real reporters know this happens more often than not). But the film succeeds because it's about the process of investigative reporting; it's as much about sitting in the office making phone calls as it is meeting mysterious sources in dark alley or in seedy bars. STATE OF PLAY features some great featured players as well, including Robin Wright Penn as Affleck's wife, who has her own history with Cal; Jeff Daniels as a senior member of Congress who would appear to be mentoring Collins through his troubling times; and particularly stellar work from Jason Bateman as a PR slickster who is far more ingrained in the affairs of government and other power brokers than he'd like to be. STATE OF PLAY feels about 85 percent authentic, which is better than most films about newspapers or newsmakers. A lot of the film takes place in the fictional offices of the DC paper, and seeing Cal and his team do actual work to find little bits of information in an effort to piece together the entire story is refreshing and fun. The film probably suffers from exactly one too many "holy shit" moments as things are wrapping up, but by then, I was already on board and willing to go where the train took me. Also, the film feels rushed at the end and desperate to wrap everything up and get all the revelations out on the table in the closing moments. I guess that's the price we pay for them doing such a great job taking their time watching the newsgathering process in the film first two thirds. There are no weak performances here. Initially, I thought McAdams might be out of her element, but she pulls through impressively. You can actually see key moments when her character is getting that her job is more than breaking news and eye-catching headlines. With relatively few lapses, the film is one seemingly made for intelligent people by intelligent people. It struck me as the film was wrapping up that you don't get that combination in movies much any more. -- Capone capone@aintitcoolmail.com



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  • April 17, 2009, 9:47 a.m. CST

    #1

    by idrinkyourmilkshake

    AGAIN!

  • April 17, 2009, 10 a.m. CST

    Paper

    by HoboCode

    Is it the Post or a fictiona lpaper Crowe works for?

  • April 17, 2009, 10:24 a.m. CST

    BBC miniseries

    by LionelRL

    The BBC mini-series is marvellous. Watch it soon, Capone! This film has a lot to live up to.

  • April 17, 2009, 10:38 a.m. CST

    Affleck deserves a hit

    by liljuniorbrown

    I like him as an actor. I think he did great in Hollywood Land,and proved himself a good director last year, he just gets shit on alot because of the whole Gigli thing.

  • April 17, 2009, 10:39 a.m. CST

    I'll watch anything by Kevin Macdonald

    by kwisatzhaderach

  • April 17, 2009, 11:07 a.m. CST

    Scoop Over the Facts

    by MarkWhittington

    The queen bee of the blog side of the paper is Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), who is a terrific writer but a terrible reporter. She values the scoop over getting the facts right the first time, and it drives Cal crazy." Yep, that certainly never happens in the legacy media.

  • April 17, 2009, 12:11 p.m. CST

    Laughable compared to the miniseries

    by reflecto

    This was eked out after multiple drop-outs and then dumped in April. Russell Crowe looks like Early Man.

  • April 17, 2009, 12:15 p.m. CST

    HoboCode

    by filmcoyote

    It's called the Washington Globe, but the Post is thanked and it is clearly a thinly-veiled Post. On Affleck, i think he gets a hard time. Is he a great actor? No. Does he have a tendency to be a cheeseball? Yes. But while Affleck in lead roles and/or big movies (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Sum Of All Fears, Gigli, Jersey Girl, Daredevil, Paycheck) is consistently rubbish he can actually turn in pretty solid performances in smaller films/ensemble movies like this, Hollywoodland, Boiler Room, Chasing Amy, Shakespeare In Love, Good Will Hunting (and by the looks of it Extract). Since Hollywoodland he's been impressing me more and more. Prior to it i had gotten into the habit of dismissing him like so may people.

  • April 17, 2009, 12:58 p.m. CST

    9

    by Jesiah

    So does Crowe start slugging it out with Rachel McAdams in a captain's outfit like south park? Kidding, that's high praise imo stating this is better than Shattered Glass. Off the top of my head I haven't seen many "journalism" flicks but Shattered Glass was pretty good; every flick I've seen Christensen in his voice seems to break and to me it sounds so off and contrived; but Shattered Glass was really good so even if his voice did break the overall story and his performance along with Peter Skaarsgard (spl?) left more of a favorable impression than his voice cracking. I was gonna see this just cuz Rachel McAdams but now I have some expectations for it since it's being put on a higher pedestal than Shattered Glass.

  • April 17, 2009, 3:56 p.m. CST

    Crowe Packing on Weight for the Role

    by Flummage

    It was my understanding that he got the role days (two weeks or so?) before they started shooting. <p> Or am I imagining that? <p> Regardless, the whole spin of print Vs blogosphere is one I'm intrigued to keep reading about, as the trailers made it look far more formulaic that that. A worthy kind of contribution to weave into an adaption of the original anyway.<p> Zeitgeisty subtexts or no, though, I can't really abide modern day Crowe, in person or on screen. So, I'm afraid the best I can do is a byline on page 37 between regional cow-tipping shenanigans and subjugational porn-lobyist consumer propoganda disguised as home insurance and biscuit advertisements.<p> The DVD player awaits.

  • April 17, 2009, 4:37 p.m. CST

    I'm Ready For Affleck to Be Cool Again

    by DKT

    After Hollywoodland and Gone, Baby, Gone, and now *this* I'm hoping he's really back.

  • April 17, 2009, 5:46 p.m. CST

    Praise the writers, but what about Paul Abbott?

    by mooli_mooli

    Seriously, Paul Abbott's been one of the most consistently good and inventive screenwriters in television for the last decade or so. Now one of his best works gets cut down and adapted for the big screen by three guys - and they get all the love?

  • April 17, 2009, 6:34 p.m. CST

    Looking forwards to this, but...

    by palimpsest

    you gotta see the original BBC version which is a piece of television beauty. We'll get the same with the remake of EDGE OF DARKNESS - no matter how good the movie turns out to be, it'll have a hard job getting anywhere near the TV original.

  • April 17, 2009, 6:56 p.m. CST

    just saw it, and it's really good

    by Jesiah

    Rachel McAdams and Crowe I knew were gonna be good, but so was affleck. I never saw the trailer, so I was pleasantly surprised to see SPOILER Lock from the Matrix sequels, Bateman from Arrested Development, and Jeff Daniels, who is noticably older so I had to wait til the credits to make sure it was him. Starts off really well and held me and my girl's attention throughout, and had a few twists and turns and ended satisfyingly for us. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes thrillers.

  • April 17, 2009, 7:15 p.m. CST

    Anyone who saw it want to explain something?

    by jcrewrower2

    I dont understand how no one came forward reporting that the girl was pushed into the train. There were people standing all around but it was reported as a suicide. Who cares about the blind spot, there were tons of people around there. Am I missing something?

  • April 17, 2009, 7:29 p.m. CST

    jcrewrower2

    by Jesiah

    Yeah I thought about that, but I guess you're supposed to think SPOILER Bingham is so good he can just push someone without everyone noticing. And also that we're all so self-involved we won't notice something like a guy pushing a chic into a train like that. Or you can chalk it up as a glaring plothole. Personally I went in expecting an ok film and came out thinking I saw a great film imo. Hopefully it holds up upon future viewings too but at least this initial experience was very great

  • April 17, 2009, 8:22 p.m. CST

    I liked it but

    by CherryValance

    I did get confused at the very end. After the dixie cup scene I started to think I was responsible for the whole cover up.

  • April 17, 2009, 8:36 p.m. CST

    Tubby Russell

    by elbmirb

    By the looks of it Russell Crowe LOST a few pounds to star in State of Play, after going extra lardy in Body of Lies. the main needs to go for a run. He's been lardy in every movie he's been in since Cinderella Man. Lazy and tubby.

  • April 17, 2009, 8:45 p.m. CST

    Jessiah

    by jcrewrower2

    Whenever I notice a plot hole or the total ridiculous (see Indy 4) it just bothers me the rest of the way through. On the whole though it was still better than most movies nowadays and it reminded me of a cross between the Pelican Brief and Michael Clayton.

  • April 17, 2009, 9:17 p.m. CST

    Affleck's Rug iS Kewl.

    by noncents

    And I do yearn for his acceptance by the mainstream, but he is truly just a face. He's not an actor's actor. Just a face. Now, Matt, he has the chops and he never sold out. He picked wisely and didn't pick according to the pay check. Ben failed us for fame and money and don't forget pussy.

  • April 18, 2009, 12:27 a.m. CST

    Confused and overwrought. [SPOILERS]

    by Mostholy

    Just got back, can't say I liked it very much. On one hand, I thought the Blackwater conspiracy was too convoluted by half. Guess what? Here in America these guys wouldn't need spies and murders to achieve their "privatizing national security" objective -- they could do it aboveboard through lobbying and other forms of legalized corruption, the type of things that go on constantly and that papers barely cover anymore. That being said, the post-Dixie Cup twist pretty much subverts entirely the Big BAd Corporate Corruption critique that's come before.<br /><br /> Also, just as I didn't buy Russell Crowe's character at all -- he was like a newsman out of Sesame Street -- I don't buy that the problem with today's media is 25-year-old bloggers not having "good" reporting skills. The problem is the Bob Woodwards, Judy Millers, and other venerable members of the establishment press bending over backwards for access and carrying water for the assholes in power. The NYT didn't blow the no-WMD story because of 25-year-old bloggers. Nor did they hold the NSA warrantless wiretaps story for over a year (an election year!) because of bloggers fulminating online. They did it because they listened to the people in power spew lies, and were either too timid or too lazy to call them on their bullshit.<br /><br /> In other words, the grand poobahs of the establishment media are basically bought and paid for, and they protect their own. That, and all the market pressures and misplaced emphases that David Simon noted in THE WIRE, are the reason newspapers are going under, not the Rachel McAdamses of the world.<br /><br /> As for the dirge for newspapers that closes the film, please. Look, I read several newspapers every morning -- it's part of my job. But you might as well cry over the radio, record player, or telegraph. Technology moves on, and, when you get right down to it, the actual production of a physical paper-and-ink newspaper involves a colossal waste of resources for something that's basically pretty ephemeral.<br /><br /> End of soapboxing. Here's a question: How did army psycho-killer guy ever find out about the little white junkie girl?

  • April 18, 2009, 1:34 a.m. CST

    Good

    by Reckoner

    This is the kind of smart thriller we need more of. The Last King of Scotland was unbelievably good. Kevin McDonald did a great job.

  • April 18, 2009, 10:02 a.m. CST

    Speaking of Duplicity...

    by Mostholy

    I saw that last night on a double bill with State of Play and have a question about it. What was the significance of the park bench? Clive marked it with white chalk, Julia clearly saw the mark later that night...and then it never seemed to come up again. What'd I miss?

  • April 18, 2009, 10:10 a.m. CST

    Although Ace... [DUPLICITY SPOILERS]

    by Mostholy

    I got the sense that Julia and Clive forced the latter's being exposed to the Duke so that he'd get busted and fired (luckily, not shot), and thus have no reason to [a] be missed when he disappeared for Rome, Zurich, or wherever they ended up going the next day, and [b] be outed as the leak. (They would assume it came from someone on Wilkinson's side, since Owen's attempt ostensibly failed.)<br /><br /> Once Clive had one copy of the formula, he could've made a second copy at any point during the office party. And now he had an out from the team. So that made sense.<br /><br /> A better question, other than why not just use a camera-phone pic to transmit the document, like Julia ends up doing, is why wouldn't Giamatti et al check to make sure the formula is legit before announcing it at the big conference? If the Swiss/Germans can figure out it's a dud in 5 minutes, so too could have Giamatti's people.<br /><br /> Still, I liked Duplicity better than State of Play, for the reasons I mentioned in an earlier post. At least Duplicity had tongue-in-cheek while not making sense.

  • April 18, 2009, 6:19 p.m. CST

    JCREWROWER

    by BringingSexyBack

    I thought about that too - that's the only glaring weak point. Otherwise pretty tight movie.

  • April 18, 2009, 10:30 p.m. CST

    Clear up some things...

    by shadowboxnyc

    Russell Crow did not gain weight for role. That is just how he looked when he showed up on set. But it definitely worked for the movie. There were not "multiple drop outs" for creative reasons. There was one. Brad Pitt wanted rewrites and they couldn't rewrite because the writers strike was still on. So he was the only one that dropped out. Edward Norton could not do it due to scheduling conflicts after Brad Pitt's drop out delayed the production. The 3 screenwriters did not work together. You can always tell this on the poster BTW. If they use the word "AND" between writers they did not work together. If they use "&" they did write together. Paul Abbot was an active producer on the film. At a screening in LA, Kevin MacDonald thanked Paul Abbott first and above all others. The movie wasn't dumped in April. Originally, the movie was to be released in November just before the election. But the writer's strike and Brad Pitt drop out moved it back. It was then going to be released in Feb. But because it was getting good scores at screenings they pushed it further to April. It was actually a good weekend for this to open. It's going to end up in second place behind 17 again which probably makes Universal very happy.

  • April 19, 2009, 7:42 a.m. CST

    Just come back from a UK preview

    by prbt

    Was mostly ok, but strangely enough it wasn't as THRILLING as the original BBC series, the film felt more laidback and not so urgent. <p> Nothing to gripe about really ('cept Affleck's strange face, and the mis-casting of Justin Bateman), just that the original was superior, and who wouldn't have expected that?

  • April 19, 2009, 8:33 a.m. CST

    PITT DROPPED OUT OF THIS TO DO INGLOURIOUS?!??!?

    by BringingSexyBack

    What an utter toolbag!

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