Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nothing Special: A Review of State of Play

Russell that you?
Despite the fact that State of Play is a political thriller about ulterior motives, uncertainty and moral ambiguity, what you see is what you get. Watch it expecting no more and no less than a standard, no frills entry in this cinematic genre. To quote from Casablanca, “all the usual suspects” have been rounded up here. There is Russell Crowe playing the hardened, cynical, cranky, detective-like journalist, Cal MacAffrey. New on the block at the Washington Globe newspaper is the young, ambitious, and idealistic Della Frye as played by Rachel McAdams, a character who eventually will form this movie’s conventionally unconventional partnership with MacAffrey.

The two find themselves determined to investigate a long string of strange events tied to Ben Affleck’s Congressmen Stephen Collins. Having just been caught in an affair with one of his aides, Collins' career in government is on the ropes. This situation is made worse when it is revealed soon after that this aide is now dead due to a strange subway station accident. This “accident” is labeled by most pundits as a suicide, but of course something seems fishy about the whole situation to MacAffrey, and he, along with Frye, end up digging into the mysteries that surround Congressmen Collins and his now deceased aide. What follows is a lot of the same: some sleuthing here, a little intense conversation there. The audience is shown that Collins and MacAffrey are old college buddies and that the latter is involved romantically with the former’s wife. These two details, of course, are designed to make out MacAffrey as an anti-hero looking out more for himself and his secret agenda than what’s really morally right. This relationship feels a little bit odd and tacked on but it’s forgivable. Naturally, there are also financial troubles occurring at the Washington Globe and the boss, Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) is around to crack down on her staff and put pressure on the two employees she has tasked with Collins story. This subplot becomes predictably emphasized in order to build tension and increase the need to solve the Collins case. This is all stuff that’s been used hundreds of different times in different movies.
Cliché as it may be, State of Play still manages to be good entertainment. Everyone has seen something like this movie before and will see a dozen more exactly like it, but hey, honestly who cares? It’s fun to watch. Trying to figure out what’s going on is satisfying and even more satisfying are a few cameo appearances, specifically Michael Berresse as the sociopathic assassin Robert Bingham, and to an even greater extent, Jason Bateman as the delightfully creepy and weird PR man, Dominic Fay. State of Play won’t blow anyone away but is able to be, with certainty, gratifying enough.

Official YAMB Grade: Neutral

Nate S Grade:
Aesthetics: B
Story: B
Actors: B
Characters: B
Official Grade: B

“You Sack of Wine!”
-Nate S

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