No secrets here I’m a Russell Crowe fan and I look forward to his films when they come out. There are a few actors in Hollywood who I’ll see anything they make. Even if the film is only mediocre, their performances usually make it worth seeing. Crowe is one of them along with Daniel Day Lewis (who Crowe recently named as his favorite actor working in film during his SOP press), Sean Penn, Michael Caine, Denzel Washington, Edward Norton, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Judy Densch and Amy Adams. A few others hover on the outskirts, but the reasons I see them are sometimes as much for their physical attributes as their acting skills (hello, Gerard Butler, Clive Owen and Hugh Jackman) or they seem like real up and comers worth keeping an eye on (Rachel McAdams, Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling).
State of Play is a solid conspiracy story thriller set in Washington, D.C. which takes you inside of the current world of journalism with a side look at Washington politics. Crowe plays Cal McCaffrey. He’s a veteran old style journalist who believes it’s all about the story and verifying your sources. Stories that have checked out before jumping into them for pure sensationalism and to sell an extra paper. He has a dislike for the online journalists who he sees as not doing enough leg work on a story.
Crowe looks awful physically in this picture. He’s overweight and out of shape. A fast food junky who’s hair looks stuck in the 1970s and he’s lucky to make it to fifty without a coronary event. And as much as I enjoy the physical attributes of certain actors (see first paragraph), the look fits for this character. Crowe again morphs into a role to leave him hardly physically recognizable to Maximus Decimus Meridius, Jack Aubrey, James Braddock, John Nash or even his last role as Ed Hoffman in Body of Lies who Crowe came off of into this role. He truly is a character actor in the body of leading man when he chooses to be.
Cal’s best friend from college is an upwardly mobile congressman played by Ben Affleck. This is a casting problem for me in this film. There is no way you can see Russell Crowe (looking like he does in this role) being Ben Affleck’s undergraduate college roommate. There appears to be a 10 year age difference between the two men on film here. Affleck does okay here (he’s one of my least favorite wooden actors in Hollywood, minus a few roles like Hollywoodland), but I could never get past this physical disparity and kept wondering what Edward Norton would have done with the role if he hadn’t had to leave the film due to another conflicting film start after the schedule was pushed back.
Rachel McAdams plays the young online journalist who ends up as Crowe’s mentee, protégée and adversary all rolled into one. She’s good in this part and the non romantic chemistry between the two is very good. Thank goodness they didn’t go for a romantic pairing between the two and it remained collegial.
Ever scene between McCaffrey and his strong and rather overbearing sell papers at all costs boss (Helen Mirren) leaves you thirsting for more. These two are great on screen together and you really want more scenes with the two of them.
Underused is Robin Wright Penn. She’s a good actress, but her role as the put upon wife (of Affleck’s philandering character) and ex-lover (of McCaffrey’s) isn’t really given enough screen time to develop. I especially couldn’t feel a strong chemistry between her and Crowe here.
Jason Bateman has a small role that makes you sit up and go WOW. No more Teen Wolf 2. He’s terrific and also makes you want to see more of his character.
The performances are the strongest part of this film. The story is average with the feeling you’ve seen all the parts in a dozen other thrillers over the last 30 years. It did keep me involved until the bottom fell out of the suspense about 20 minutes before the end of the film. The director (Kevin Macdonald) should have edited this differently to keep the audience closer to the edge of their seats. He tries to pull you back in, but I never completely was again. His other film The Last King of Scotland didn’t have this same problem and it is a superior film.
I’d give this film a B. It’s entertaining and worth the admission. Without the great performances it would be merely an average thriller worth no more than a matinee price.