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State of Play

a film by Kevin Macdonald

Yet another predictable poly-psych thriller-cum-mediocrity out of the Hollywood hills to cog the megaplex machinery that is middle America. On the heels of The International and Duplicity and borrowing from everything from All the President's Men to The Pelican Brief to The Parallax View, Kevin Macdonald's State of Play is another placid woulda, coulda, shoulda, kind of motion picture that is more the norm in mainstream cinema in these days of assembly line productivity. Not good enough to capture one's attention very deeply but not bad enough to thoroughly pan.

I suppose there are worse films out there and I suppose overall State of Play is on the better side of the proverbial 38th parallel of film criticism. For instance, Russell Crowe is fine in the cliche-dripping role of befuddled protag, Cal McCaffrey, an old school ink-in-his-veins newspaper reporter. He actually plays off that same said cliche and works it into a subtly convincing portrayal full of nuances that many actors (Brad Pitt was originally cast) could not pull off. Crowe, along with a patiently pliable Rachel McAdams as the requisite plucky sidekick (her youthful blogger gives Crowe the position of sage journalistic wizard a la drunken master), plod through the sometimes ridiculously obvious screenplay (mostly based on a BBC TV series from 2003) with as much chutzpah as they can.

Meanwhile, Ben Affleck is typically bland as a young US Rep under tabloid scrutiny and Robin Wright Penn and Helen Mirren, as jilted wife and gruff editor respectively, are completely wasted in parts that are fathoms below what they are capable of doing. The job of scene stealer though belongs to the thoroughly underused, and even more thoroughly underappreciated Jason Bateman as a coke-sniffing, hyper-edged, sex-addict, bribe-taking, rat-finking douchebag. Perhaps he alone would be worth the price of admission if he were in more of the film.

In sum, Macdonald, who's only other feature film is the tepid but explosively acted The Last King of Scotland (he is primarily a documentarian/biographer) has doled out another blandly obvious thriller that hangs on by the barest of threads, not because of the whole, but rather the sum of its parts. [05/12/09]

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