With a cast that boasts three Oscar winners and a director who won an Oscar himself, I would have expected more from State of Play. The movie gives us some pretty good performances and a serviceable script with some twists, but overall nothing too memorable. Oscar-winner Russell Crowe plays Cal McCaffrey, a veteran reporter at the Washington Globe who is sucked into an investigation of his old roommate, a Congressmen played by Oscar-winner Ben Affleck. The onion gets peeled layer-by-layer as connections to a large military contractor (being investigated by Affleck’s Congressman Stephen Collins) indicates a conspiracy who likely murdered the congressman’s mistress as well. I usually love a good plot-twist movie, and I amazingly didn’t think of looking at my watch for the entire two-hour duration of this movie. However, the movie was undermined for me by the last twist (which I won’t reveal here). I also didn’t care for the interjection of a melodramatic love triangle involving McCaffrey, Collins, and his ill-fitting wife (played by the always-luminous Robin Wright Penn).
Affleck’s performance was a bit of the problem as well. His square jaw and furrowed brow were not enough to be convincing as a US congressman — he seemed more like a Ken doll with his hair neatly combed, dressed in a spiffy suit. When viewed side-by-side against Russell Crowe’s easy, natural performance of McCaffrey as a well-worn and well-loved investigative journalist of the people, Affleck didn’t stand a chance of not seeming stiff and out-of-place. Then there were the women: I’ve admired Robin Wright Penn all the way back to her early days in the TV soap Santa Barbara (yes, yes, I watched it). In State of Play she had such chemistry with Crowe that it was hard to wish her back with her husband. Helen Mirren plays boss lady Cameron Lynne at the Globe, making tough decisions and ball-busting look as effortless as taking tea and crumpets. Lastly but definitely not least, Rachel McAdams plays Della Frye (a political blogger at the Globe who becomes McCaffery’s right hand on the investigation) with such warmth, intelligence and character that I confess I’m a little in love with her now. So how can poor Ben be expected to hold a candle to all that?
It’s interesting, but even though this movie is based on a British mini-series, the Americanized content is really close to what’s going on in the TV series 24. The new villain seems to be the post-Afghanistan private military agencies. Having worn out all the villains from outside, Hollywood seems to be looking for evil-doers within its own national borders. I guess this is the zeitgeist of the new post-Bush era. Regardless of the motivation, this political/journalistic thriller is good entertainment, but I’d be wary of giving it any more credit than that. (4 out of 5)