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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reporter-as-Detective at Heart of Political Thriller

By Sandy Barnes
Berthoud Recorder

Russell Crowe’s gusty portrayal of reporter Cal McAffrey brings life to the film “State of Play.” A thriller with more twists and turns than a high-tech ride at Six Flags, the movie centers around political corruption and the journalistic will to uncover it in Washington, D.C.

An unlikely looking hero, Crowe’s pudgy appearance and messy lifestyle comprise a refreshing change from the spiffy Robert Redford character in the classic “All the President’s Men” and other traditional films about the news media. Yet, in classic style McAffrey’s old-fashioned dedication shines in an evolving news world where blogging and bottom-line profits run roughshod over investigative journalism. Crow’s performance as a reporter with detective-like persistence in finding out what he wants to know — even at the cost of longstanding friendship — is gratifying to see.

The film’s story line of the political unraveling of a fresh-faced Congressman with a beautiful wife to whom he has been unfaithful is scarcely a new one. However, this particular plot lurches along a convoluted path involving a government contractor supplying mercenaries to Iraq, which is under Congressional investigation.

In film noir tradition, lead investigator Congressman Collins has a fatal flaw that results in his own downfall and the death of four people involved with him to varying degrees.

However, the plot –– adapted from a BBC television series –– becomes so complex and muddied, that halfway through the film the viewer begins to question her own abilities to discern what is taking place. Suspenseful mystery is a great addition to drama, but it’s also good to finally learn things like how the Congressman’s wife had knowledge of the corrupted situation she apparently did.

The strong supporting cast, which includes British actress Helen Mirren as the tyrannical newspaper editor and Jeff Daniels as a slick Senator with his own foibles, adds to the strength of the film. And Rachel McAdams’ portrayal of a young reporter who goes from glib blogger to brave journalist (with lots of help from Crowe’s character) is enjoyable to see. The story of the changing world of newspapers depicted in “State of Play” is also an interesting subplot, if a sad one for those presently in the business to behold.

In many ways a compelling film despite its shortcomings regarding plot development, “State of Play” is worth a trip to the theater — especially on a rainy day when it’s nice to be indoors.

State of Play
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, Jeff Daniels
Runtime: One hour 57 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexual situations, profanity

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