Tuesday, November 17, 2009

State of Play

Don't you love it when you pick up a movie you've never heard of, hoping that it will be decent, but knowing that most of the time you'll be disappointed, then you watch the movie and wonder why you have never heard of it because it's so much better than most of the garbage that's out there? That was my experience with State of Play.

This isn't really a new concept. An unkempt yet respectable investigative reported at a big Washington newspaper stumbles into a big, big story that reaches into the very halls of power. (By the way, I always think of Russell Crowe in Gladiator. I don't know if he put on weight for this role, or if he's just gained some weight. But he does not have an action hero physique in State of Play! Presumably he'll shape up for Robin Hood.)

Washington is agog over the latest big scandal. An aide to Representative Collins (Ben Affleck) has apparently committed suicide on the Metro tracks. When Collins breaks down at a hearing, it's quickly discovered that he was having an affair with the aide. Meanwhile, Crowe, who happens to be an old buddy of Collins, is looking into a homicide, which everyone assumes is drug related. He gets a lucky but unnerving scoop when he uncovers a seeming connection between the murder and the aide's suicide. Determined to get to the bottom of it, he drives his editor (Helen Mirren) crazy chasing down leads.

Yes, complex personal backstories, random connections, coincidental meetings, and implausible moments clutter the plot a bit. But it's all woven together in a way that kept me guessing and cheering for Crowe. I especially liked the use of the spy camera perspective, giving the impression that watchers were everywhere. And they were!

On a policy note, the question of using private contractors for domestic surveillance and Patriot Act enforcement. The story drives State of Play; this policy question is in the background, but it adds an urgency and reality to the story.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for a political thriller, but I really liked this movie. Turns out it's based on a BBC miniseries. I might have to track that down, too.

Bottom line, a strong 3 1/2 stars!

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