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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

STATE OF PLAY

By D.E.Levine

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Producers: Andrew Hauptman, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Executive Producers: Paul Abbott, Liza Chasin, Debra Hayward, E.Bennett Walsh
Co-producer: Eric Hayes
Associate Producer: Kwame L. Parker
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray
Story: Paul Abbott created a successful BBC television series
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Maria Thayer
Country of Origin: U.S.-U.K.
Genre: Action, Thriller, Drama, Mystery
Running Time: 128 Minutes

This action packed thriller, which deals with a seasoned print journalist working for the Washington Globe, a Washington D.C. newspaper, is an intriguing attention getter raising memories of previous great newspaper stories that impacted American history, at a time when print news is on the decline.

Starting with a scene that viewers could interpret as a robbery/murder stemming from drug crimes or racial violence, the plot is full of twists and surprises as it unwinds while the excellent cast makes the plot believable even when the story slows in places.

Russell Crowe turns in a strong performance as the tenacious scruffy veteran D.C. reporter, Cal McAffrey, who sees the connection between seemingly unrelated crimes and uncovers a conspiracy involving murder and collusion between some of the country's most influential political and corporate figures.

Looking slim, handsome and polished, Ben Affleck is every inch U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins, a bright young Congressman on the rise and very much the opposite in appearance of McAffrey. As an appointee overseeing the committee investigating defense spending, Collins has singled out and is playing hardball against a government defense contractor named Point Corp.

Collins appears to be the bright future of his party, in essence a rising star, until his young female research assistant, Sonia Baker, dies in the D.C.Metro. Is her death an accident, a suicide or a murder?

When it's revealed that Collins was romantically involved with Baker, his reputation and credibility are damaged and we're treated to a look at how a political party will spin a tale for damage control within the political system. Is the Congressman guilty of just adultery or of something worse? Or, is someone deliberately trying to stop the Congressman?

Complicating matters is the fact that McAffrey and Collins were college roommates and Collins' wife Anne was once romantically involved with McAffrey. There's still an attraction between the two, although viewers don't get the feeling of uncontrollable passion. How will their obvious attraction to each other, their friendship and past history, plus the friendship between Collins and McAffrey affect McAffrey?

The ongoing question, of course, is whether McAffrey can remain objective as he links together seemingly random occurrences. Reminiscent of earlier political thrillers like The Parallax View and The French Connection, State of Play races forward with more murders, suspicious individuals, high speed chases and breathtaking special effects.

The director makes good use of well known landmarks such as the Watergate complex, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Capitol and the city streets themselves to remind us of past scandals and set scenes for current ones.

The frequent heavy rainstorms that act as a backdrop for much of the film add a bleakness and chill that increases the mystery and suspense. Meanwhile, the film itself is character rather than theme driven.

While McAffrey, the journalist, searches for the truth about the incidents, their links to each other and to government corruption, Collins, the ambitious politician seeks to retain his power, salvage his career and continue his ascent in Washington.

As the bodies mount by what we now know is deliberate murder/assassination, the attempts increase to end the journalist's life and to murder/assassinate the Congressman's reputation and career. Both the journalist and the politician have become prey for the assassin.

Working with novice reporter Della Frye to uncover the truth, the tension mounts as the duo race against the clock to meet their deadline to go to press, to learn the truth, to expose the guilty parties, and to stop additional murders.

Even as the film approaches its conclusion, even when we think the mystery has been solved and the suspense has reached its climax, State of Play holds still more unexpected plot twists and turns.