Tuesday, September 1, 2009

DVD review: "State of Play"

An above-average political thriller, "State of Play" also offers one of the most authentic portrayals of newspaper journalists since "All the President's Men."

With his frumpy clothes fitting poorly over a pudgy body, paper-strewn cubicle, studied nonchalance and scruffy beard decorated with Cheetos crumbs, Russell Crowe appears every inch the grizzled, veteran reporter. His Cal McAffrey is an old-school digger for the fictional Washington Globe.

His best friend also happens to be Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a young, Kennedy-esque Congressman who gets caught up in a sex-and-murder imbroglio that Cal has been assigned to investigate.

Tagging along is an idealistic young blogger (Rachel McAdams) who Cal initially treats dismissively. In time, he sees that the kid's got chops, and they become partners in the biggest story in Washington, D.C.

Helen Mirren also has a nice turn as the ball-busting editor trying to get a juicy story where her star reporter has a personal connection that could lead to a big scoop, but also backfire if he tries to protect his friend rather than the facts. She also has to deal with impersonal new corporate owners who value profit over news.

Director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") and his trio of screenwriters stir the pot expertly at first, allowing the players and pieces of the puzzle to assemble themselves. The second half turns too much to conventional thriller tropes, including the unlikely scenario of both Cal and his young partner having shots taken at them in separate incidents.

DVD extras are rather miserly: Two deleted scenes and a making-of featurette that consists of more hype than insight. The only interesting thing I found in the latter was cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto's decision to shoot Crowe's scenes on film with an anthropomorphic lens to give them a gritty, shallow look while using digital video with a deep focus for Affleck's scenes to make Washington's corridors of power seem sleek and expansive.

Movie: 3 stars
Extras: 2 stars

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