Movie News & Reviews

Strong cast makes 'State of Play' worthy

One of the cool things about getting to see the best and worst ofeverything that comes out is you get unnecessarily familiar with thework of writers and directors who might otherwise go totallyunnoticed.

I say this is cool because sitting around thinking about non-householdnames such as writer Matthew Michael Carnahan is infinitely more fun thansitting around thinking about whether eating that bite of curry thatfell in the corner is still disgraceful if there's no one around tosee it.

But seriously, what's Carnahan's deal? First, he writes TheKingdom, which was superb and confident, then he follows it upwith Lions for Lambs, which was so boring and preachy that Iexpected someone to pass a collection plate around during the credits.

What do you do with information like that? Turn it into a theory evenother movie nerds don't care about, obviously. In this case, I'm goingwith the newly-formed Jekyll and Hyde Theory, which simply states thatmovie people are capable of quantum leaps in talent--for good or forbad. (For a positive example, see George Clooney.) Seeing whichCarnahan showed up to co-write State of Play wasn't just myduty, it was for science.

In the midst of an investigation into Defense Department contracts,influential congressman Ben Affleck is shaken by the news his leadresearcher threw herself beneath a Metro train.

Within hours, it's become public knowledge they were having an affair.What's kept private is that journalist Russell Crowe is convinced itwasn't a murder, it was a suicide. Aided by young reporter RachelMcAdams, they begin to uncover an elaborate conspiracy to discreditAffleck in the midst of what could be a landmark decision for the waythe U.S. goes to war.

What I didn't realize going into State of Play is it'scowritten by Tony Gilroy, the big bad stud who wrote MichaelClayton and all three Bourne movies, and thus there was about zerochance it wouldn't be some kind of good. Actually, looking at his IMDbcredits, Gilroy fits the Jekyll and Hyde Theory so strongly I can onlyconclude that beneficial, culturally advanced Pod People replaced himsometime around the turn of the millennium. Exhibit A: Prior tobecoming the master of sophisticated modern thrillers, Gilroy wroteArmageddon and The Devil's Advocate. Case closed.

But the galactic plot to bring us quality entertainment is beside thepoint. What's truly relevant here is that McAdams looks great.

Okay, I'm a little confused right now, because you're still readingeven though that's all anyone needs to know about State ofPlay. Sure, it's a twisty, well-paced story with an awesomesupporting cast and an interesting take on modern politics. But it'salso got a pretty girl in it, and you just don't see that in Hollywoodevery day. (Okay, so she's talented, too. If you're into that sort ofthing.)

Gilroy and Carnahan show some talent as a team, too. Carnahan'sstylized, borderline overdone dialogue is tempered into a lot of quiethumor; their mutual interest in deeper politics than "Someone is goingto shoot the president! Let's stop him from shooting the president"makes for legitimate governmental concerns that duck the usualhyperconspiracy madness.

If State of Play has a major flaw -- and by and large it's astrong, self-propelled piece with characters worth following -- it'sthat it eventually neglects its politics for another late turn that,nicely realistic though it might be, lets the main thread burn outwith no more than a fizzle. It's still satisfying, it just can't landthat knockout punch it deserved.

Grade: B