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"State of Play"

Directed by Kevin Macdonald.
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray.
Starring Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck and Helen Mirren.

Release Year:  2009
Review Date:  4/19/09


After attending the free showing of "State of Play" here in DC a few days ago, I must say--it took a hundred years, but somebody finally made a film set in Washington actually feel like it was set in Washington right down to the details and I didn't feel ripped off.

And, the film was pretty good, too.

Sure, it creates a couple of "hmm" situations, but "State of Play"--based on a British TV series, apparently--does a good job of being a populist thriller without dumbing itself down as well as giving us a genuine portrait of Washington, despite the fact that we have three foreigners playing the leads at a Washington, DC-based newspaper.  Russell Crowe (Aussie) plays Cal McAffrey, a veteran reporter who initially follows up on a story involving two gunshot victims in Georgetown.  Meanwhile, Rachel McAdams (Canadian) plays Della Frye, an upstart blogger working for the same newspaper as Cal, who stumbles upon another story after it is learned that a congressman's mistress has been there a connection between the timing of these two events?  And, does it matter that Cal is best friends with the congressman, Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck)?  And, why does the Washington Post-like paper have an editor who is clearly British (Helen Mirren)??

Most of these questions get answered.  Here's what I'll say--"State of Play" makes me forget about the atrocities committed by films like "Enemy of the State" (hell, even by films like "xXx: State of the Union") which badly guessed at how life is here in DC, or where Alexandria is in relation to Dupont Circle, or that Baltimore is not within sight of the Washington Monument.  In terms of territorial proximity alone, "State of Play" should win an Oscar.  Then, you get a lot of very-obviously-shot-on-location shots (although, my guess is that the scenes at the newspaper offices were not shot in a building here) and you get little moments of beauty, like an interrogation at a local seedy hotel...the seedy Americana Hotel in Crystal City, which really is five minutes outside of town, so when someone drives there from the city, it really does take five minutes...seriously, I can't believe that this is the first DC movie I have ever seen that appears to get that just right.  References to other places around town, mixed with shots of local celebrities like Frank Herzog (playing a fellow US congressman) or DC's own newscasters like Jim Vance, make "State of Play" a lot of fun...and, for dessert, you get a shot of Cal buying chili dogs at Ben's Chili Bowl.  Come on, DC know they never get it just right, so enjoy the moment.

And, the movie crackles along like a crackling, edge-of-your-seat political thriller with a thriller-type score and moments of intensity, like when Cal is typing at his computer, or when characters make intense phone calls from cell phones while looking everywhere to make sure no one is watching them.  I think it's not a bad thing that "State of Play" is a thriller for the masses because it entertains despite the formula.  We get a couple of tense moments, some laughs, a couple of surprises, and some social critique on the state of the American newspaper (although, obviously, the fifth season of "The Wire" did it a hundred times better...sigh).  And, there's a reason why Crowe and Mirren have been nominated for six Oscars combined...the acting here is strong but it's made stronger because you can almost tell that the other performers are trying to hold their own whenever Crowe or Mirren are onscreen...good stuff.

And, the guy that directed this movie did the incredible "Touching the Void" a few years ago...add that to the Netflix queue right now.  "State of Play" should have ended five minutes before it did--unnecessary twists convolute an already-fine ending--but otherwise, it did the job as a solid-but-not-spectacular spring film.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 04/29/09