State of Play | A Mystery Thriller That Misses the Mark

Russell Crowe plays a dirt-digging reporter in the mystery thriller State of Play. ©2009 Universal Pictures.

Many of us are unfamiliar with the highly praised State of Play miniseries that aired in 2003 on BBC whose six suspenseful hours were squeezed into 127 American minutes, now playing in theaters. While the trailers promised a tightly wound suspense brimming with celebrities, the movie State of Play is a disappointing effort that doesn’t quite click.

Here’s what does work: State of Play is a mystery thriller with opening scenes that reel us in. An overstocked cast including Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Rachel McAdams, and Jason Batemen doing good sleaze. An intriguing premise: When a lovely young intern commits suicide in the Washington Metro, the married Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck) is implicated for having an affair with her. Enter the Washington [Whatever] newspaper with flagging sales, whose reporters overstep their authority to uncover a hotbed of Washington doo-doo. 

And then there’s Della Frye, whose ironic name sounds more like a 1930s gossip columnist typing on an Underwood than a perky blogger played by Rachel McAdams. And Cal McCaffrey (Crowe), looking more like an aging hippie living out of the back seat of his car than the newspaper’s investigative reporter who was college chums with Stephen Collins (Affleck) and his wife Anne (Penn). And here we’ve stumbled on a triple casting blunder. Robin Wright Penn as Anne Collins is too old to be married to Stephen (Affleck). And Crowe’s character (McCaffrey) looks too old to be schoolmates with either of them—he looks like he could almost have gone to school with his editor (Helen Mirren). But, okay, even if McCaffrey and Anne were peers, they would have graduated college when Stephen was attending his junior prom.  

For another thing, we’ve got some cliché plot points, such as 1) the married Congressman who parties with the intern and 2) the crime-solving reporters who want to scoop the story without the police. And while we’re at it, there were a few too many bad guys per celluloid inch. But I won’t spoil the movie for you. No, the studio seems to be handling that.

Bottom line: The story is a stretch from every angle, the casting is skewed, and the star reporter needs a haircut and a mirror. State of Play is an okay film but not a great one. Wait for the DVD.  B-

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