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State of Play

"State of Play"
Review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Deftly spinning off of the 2003 6-part BBC TV miniseries with the same title, director Kevin Macdonald's feature film, "State of Play" engages the movie-going mind in, what might be called, "The Return of All the President's Men." Macdonald directed Forrest Whitaker in the Oscar-winning role of Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" from 2006.

In this new film---script by Matthew Michael Carnahan--- there are no Plumbers, Deep Throats or several minutes of telephone chat gone missing from a secretary's tape recorder. Instead, we find an ominous, shadowy, military security corporation called PointCorp in bed up to its letterhead with some US congressmen and defense contractors. (Another title to be pondered for the movie may have been, "Bad Day at Blackwater.")

The film is also a paean to the imminent demise of print journalism and the newspaper biz. (Tell me it isn't so.) Bloggers who attend this film should keep their heads down for some of the rhetoric flying from the soundtrack.

Washington Globe veteran reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is tantamount to a Woodward ‘n' Bernstein with a splash of Serpico, although a tad smoother. Crowe is effectively winning, as usual, handling the leading man reporter character that soon sniffs something rotten about two street drug-related deaths and the suicide of a young woman at the D.C. Metro who is the lead researcher for a Pennsylvania politician named Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). Congressman Collins has been busy trying to shine a light on the shadowy corporation's activities. (Just because there's paranoia, doesn't mean that someone is not out to get someone else, I always say.)

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck

Representative Collins is also stressing over the imminent divorce from his estranged and lovely wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn). Seems McAfferty and Collins were college roomies. And there was a time when old Cal and Mrs. Collins were chummy, too. Is Cal still carrying a dimly lit torch and where's the Girl Friday in "State of Play"?

She's across the Globe newsroom from Cal scratching for angles on what kind of relationship Collins had with his deceased research assistant. Cal, with some of his integrity still intact, isn't amused.With echoes of "Perry Mason," this Girl Friday" is not named Della Street, but Della Frye and well-played by Rachel McAdams.

Yes, she's perky. And yes, she's motivated. And yes, the boss lady of the newspaper, not Katherine Graham but Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), is keeping Della on this burgeoning story even if the publisher assigns Cal to mentor and keep the reportage above snuff.

No! I'm not displeased with this film. It's a good film, mainly for the brilliant characterization, acting and direction---and, did I say anything about production values? This "State of Play," which is not very different from the TV original, is nothing new by a very long shot. But the way the film moves and suspends tension and suspense so effortlessly, without immense amounts of blood flow, is refreshing. Interest is held.

Russell Crowe and Robin Wright Penn
Russell Crowe and Robin Wright Penn

Details. Yes, details. They're important to the viewing of this movie, so keep the eyes open and the ears peeled for intricacies spoken in the well-turned and sometimes humorous dialogue. Mirren has some of the best lines and does she deliver them well.

Two other supporting roles need attention. Jeff Daniels is right good in a small part as a fictitious House Majority Whip called George Fergus. Then there's some fun in seeing Jason Bateman playing the role of a man named Dominic Foy, a bi-guy sort of PR/lobbyist dude who hangs out in high-dollar D.C. restaurants doing inside-the-Beltway business for big bucks. Dominic does some relevant bean-spilling. No, his favorite drink isn't a Brandy Abramoff. Oh yes, recent Oscar nominee, Viola Davis ("Doubt") is also seen in "Play" as well as quick clips of cable icons, Chris Matthews and Lou Dobbs.

A small postscript to the screening of this movie must be added. At about 30 minutes away from the end of "State of Play," the fire alarm tripped in the cineplex! A loud, steady, piercing electronic scream persisted as strobe lights blinked all of us to disembark the teatro, pronto. We did. No fire. But I did see a Sacramento fireman walking down the aisle after several minutes just about the time the noise quit and the strobe flashes didn't, still making blind spots in everyone's vision.

The theater staff was kind enough to cover the strobe light in our auditorium and roll the rest of the film to closure for those writing reviews. Most of the crowd had left, some unhappy not getting to see who the really bad persons are in "State of Play."

It's the first time in a lifetime of going to picture shows that I've witnessed a fire alarm going off in the theater and having to get the hell out. What I noticed that's probably most important for you, the review reader, is that when the crowd was standing outside in the chilly April air of downtown Sacramento waiting to reenter the auditorium to see the rest of the movie, not one of us, that I could see, was walking out on "State of Play."

Do they give rain checks to people who, through no fault of their own, don't get to see how the movie turns out?

"State of Play" official site.

Opens 4/17 @ AMC Southroads 20 & the Cinemark.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters & times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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