I admit to being biased when it comes to Russell Crowe. In my opinion, he’s by far, one of the greatest character actors in the business. In his new film, “State of Play,” Crowe is the glue that holds this political thriller together. And that’s quite a feat given a stellar cast, which includes Helen Mirren, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn and Rachel McAdams. Warning: Don your thinking cap prior to entering the theater. This is one, smart fast-paced whodunnit that will leave you reeling.
Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, a disheveled ace reporter for The Washington Globe (aka The Washington Post?) who’s acutely aware of the problems affecting the Fourth Estate. McAdams is the new kid on the block, whom Cal takes under his wing for an important assignment. It involves a congressman, Stephen Collins (Affleck), who is one of Cal’s closest friends. Collins chairs a committee, which is investigating the privatization of Homeland Security, specifically a company called Pointcorps (aka Blackwater?). When Collins’ mistress dies in a subway “accident,” Cal begins following the leads, which don’t add up, and eventually put him in the predicament of having to choose between being a good friend or a good reporter.
There’s a lot going on in this intellectual puzzle. Political conspiracies, emotional entanglements, the impending demise of newsprint and a bunch of backstabbing keep the audience on its toes.
The acting is first rate. Mirren doesn’t have much screen time, but when on-camera as the tyrannical editor-in-chief, she owns her scenes. McAdams demonstrates she’s way more than a pretty face as the blogger-turned-investigator. And Affleck, who I’ve always thought was better behind the camera (“Gone Baby Gone”), is so good in this film that I was taken aback. Another surprise is Jason Bateman (“Juno”), deliciously slimy as a dirty PR man who’s privy to the story behind the story.
“State of Play” is an intelligently executed thriller, deftly directed by Kevin MacDonald (“The Last King of Scotland”). It’s cleverly scripted by three heavy-hitters — Matthew Michael Carnahan (“Lions for Lambs”), Billy Ray (“Breach”) and Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”). Interestingly, the role of Cal was originally cast with Brad Pitt, who walked off over creative differences a week before shooting. Thanks, Brad.