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With Jim Sabatini

State of Play

State of Play
Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, James MacAvoy, Kelly Macdonald and Bill Nighy

Rated: PG-13 brief drug content, some violence, sexual references and language
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: April 19, 2009 Released by: Universal Studios, Inc.

This dense "conspiracy" thriller starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck is a fine streamlining of the BBC series which starred James MacAvoy, Kelly Macdonald and Bill Nighy.

State of Play consistently engages on many levels as it feels like an updated cousin of stellar '70s pics like Three Days of the Condor and All the President's Men.

Having writers like Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy (Duplicity) and Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) is a plus when it comes to snappy, sharp dialogue. The narrative convolutions briskly make for an insightful ambiguity when it comes to the press and politics.

Crowe's long-tressed, scruffy Cal McAffrey is the veteran D.C. reporter for "The Globe" driven by his connection of two stories - a supposed drug-deal gone bad in the streets and an apparent suicide of a woman who was the lead investigator for Cal's old friend and college roommate Stephen Collins (Affleck, whose career has taken an interesting turn after JLo), a married Pennsylvania Congressman.

State of Play follows the last word of its title in a busy, edgy way as old-school scruffy Cal (his desk is topped with paper and he drives a 1990 Saab) is able to pique the interest of the paper's upstart on-line reporter Della, a perky Rachel McAdams (Red Eye). Cal and Della reluctantly use their journalistic acumen focusing on the affairs of a Haliburton-like company, PointCorp. They have to deal with the chic, feisty editor Cameron (Helen Mirren of The Queen) who has the reputation of "The Globe" on her mind.

It takes an able director to handle the many tangents the sharp scenarists provide as one gets the inside scoop into more than a police investigation (Harry Lennix is a cop Cal works on) and a news story. Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) turns out to be the kind of auteur who gives it an authentic docudrama feel at times, just like he did during the rise of Idi Amin. There's not the typical nefarious folks at work here, even if the stand-out villain (especially in the climax) comes across as a bit stolid.

Crowe carries the large freight here quite well, not self-serving his star image, as Cal dogged sniffs beyond what is in his wireless contact files. He has palpable rapport with McAdams and spry banter with the tough-minded Mirren. The strained relationships within the script aren't left on the backburner as Robin Wright Penn brings necessary gravitas to the Congressman's wife.

Affleck is decent as the sobering, compromised man out to expose the privatization of the military, while in smaller, yet important roles, Jeff Daniels (Traitor) is a candid, if imposing fellow Congressman, and, especially, Jason Bateman (Juno), as a pansexual pivotal to Cal and Della. Even Viola Davis (so good in Doubt) turns up briefly as a coroner Cal uses his wiles on.

Some may not take in all that is happening on one viewing here as State of Play may be too clever (and creepy) by half. Yet, it is slickly crafted as it (along with The Soloist) off-handedly suggests the rapid abatement of the newspaper in today's instant, insistently informative global climate as it truthfully makes the paces with ripping ambiguity.

  Frank Chris Jim Nina Sam Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
State of Play  B      B            B      B 

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