Sunday, April 19, 2009

"State of Play" - REVIEW

The political thriller is, unfortunately, a dying breed. It's not a matter of whether they're successful or not; it's that there are simply very few of them around. The last noteworthy political thriller was 2005's "The Interpreter", and it's been a desert for such films ever since. Whether or not "State of Play", adapted from the BBC miniseries of the same name, will open the door for more political thrillers is debatable, but it will satisfy fans of the genre for the time being. It opens with a murder in the dark, and an apparent suicide the next day. The suicide victim is Sonia Baker, the assistant to Congressman Steven Collins (Ben Affleck), who is just about to start a hearing into the work of private military organization Pointcorp (think the real life Blackwater). It soon comes to light that Sonia was the head of research for Collins, and that Collins was also having an affair with her. Meanwhile, shlubby reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) picks up on the story and ends up working with recently-hired blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). As the pair's investigation continues, the case becomes increasingly complex and connected across Washington. The best thing about "State of Play" are noticeable from the very beginning: the tight editing. Condensing the intricacies of a six episode miniseries into a two hour film couldn't have been an easy task, but it seems effortless on screen. The pacing is aided by the energetic, string-and-electric-guitar-based score, which lends an added sense of momentum to the film, which has very few "action scenes". Characters are another highlight. With the exception of Rachel McAdams' Della, everyone has their good and bad traits. Cal, though eager to seek the truth, is torn witholds vital evidence from a police investigation for at least a day, while his boss Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) is trying to force Cal and Della to run their story as soon as possible, regardless of how complete it is, in hopes that the news will sell more papers. Performances are all solid, but it's difficult to label anyone as a standout; there's no weak link, but there's no superstar either. This is more than made up for by the twists, which feel natural despite the compressed running time; just when you think you've been given the last part of the puzzle, something else comes up. Unfortunately, the only underwhelming part of the film is its final, and perhaps most crucial twist. Sure, it's nothing compared to some of the awfulness that M. Night Shyamalan has given us, but it fails to pack the wallop that the script planned for. It's a shame that the script had to save the one "blah" twist for last; it puts a damper on an otherwise very solid political thriller that deserves to be seen.

Grade: B

Number of 2008 films seen: 10

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