“State of Play” and the lost art of stealth reporting
Hollywood can still turn out sharply written screenplays and suspenseful dramas with A-list stars. This week’s new release, “State of Play,” and the already-in-theaters “Duplicity,” offer proof of this fact, and moviegoers who like their thrillers more cerebral than noisy should grab them before the summer blockbusters arrive. Kudos to writer/director Tony Gilroy, who had a hand in both films.
(Speaking of this summer, does anyone else think the preview clips for the forthcoming “Terminator Salvation,” “Transformers,” and “X-men/Wolverine” installments all look like the same movie? Even the new Harry Potter features ominous grey dawn tones in every frame-don’t filmmakers believe in sunlight anymore?)
One reason journalists (and yes, film critics fancy ourselves as such) may be fawning over “State of Play” is the way it romanticizes the gumshoe reporter, as portrayed by Russell Crowe. His Cal McAffrey, a veteran of the Washington Globe (with columns covering every cranny of his cluttered cubicle), knows his way around a crime scene and knows how to sniff out the critical information needed for a story.
While investigating an apparent homicide, McAffrey learns of the death of a pretty young woman in a Metro station. Turns out she’s a researcher working for rising young Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck in one of his best turns). As the plot unfolds, Collins turns to McAffrey, his college roommate, for help. Meanwhile, the scruffy reporter begins to piece together the dangerous clues that lead to a fairly typical and, sadly, completely believable Beltway corruption and sex scandal, with the help of a fresh-faced blog writer (Rachel McAdams).
But “State of Play” is rarely commonplace or predictable, and it features terrific performances, including a snippy editor (Helen Mirren) who is under pressure from ownership to sell papers. One of the film’s treasures is its homage to investigative reporting with Crowe playing a likable protagonist whose methods will be seen by some as virtuously dogged and others as unequivocally unethical.
If print media is a dying breed, then such determined journalists-an entire generation of whom was inspired by Bernstein and Woodward four decades ago-are the dinosaur pundits heading for their ice age.
“State of Play,” which wraps with a nice twist, savors a good story and those who live and breathe to write it.
Rated PG-13 for some violence, language, including sexual references, brief drug content.