Based on a politically charged BBC miniseries, director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) moves the action from the House of Parliament to Washington, D.C., where the suspicious death of a congressman’s co-worker mistress underlines the desperate state of newspaper journalism in America.
Russell Crowe — looking considerably older these days — plays Cal McAffrey, a veteran Washington Post-styled reporter with close ties to U.S. Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) and Collins’ romantically fickle wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn). Cal uncovers a corporate espionage plan to privatize Homeland Security that seems related to the death of Collins’ mistress. He gets tossed in with neophyte newspaper blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to cover the story, whose scandalous elements threaten to eclipse greater crimes at hand.
Laced with telegraphed character development, ghost-in-the-machine plot points and preachy commentary, State of Play is a pedantic thriller caught in its own obvious clockwork. Nothing is organic and no situation believable in a movie that plays like a collection of isolated subplots.
A theme ostensibly about the ongoing privatization of America’s industrial military industrial complex — prisons included — gets palmed into a story about the loss of journalism to lowest-common-denominator commercial rewards, for which there isn't even yet a viable metric. When McAffrey’s editor (Helen Mirren) preaches the tawdry editorial demands of the newspaper’s new owners, there’s a sense that the unseen capitalist pigs are also to blame for the diffused nature of what should have been a blood-curdling thriller about the desperate state of our country where corporations and banks are the only ones free to “play” while everyone else has to pay. Grade: C
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