State of Play

Intriguing stew.

"Society bristles with enigmas which look hard to solve. It is a perfect maze of intrigue." Honore de Balzac

Political thrillers come and go, most just fade quickly, unlike greats such as the Manchurian Candidate (the 1962 version), Three Days of the Condor, and more recently Spartan (unforgettable of course is All the President's Men, more history than thriller). So I was pleased to enjoy State of Play, a stew of political intrigue wherein Congressman Stephen Collins' (Ben Affleck) mistress has mysteriously died, much to the chagrin of his wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn) and the important investigative committee he chairs. Based on a six-hour BBC series, without the quirky character-depth, it all works well enough although it's boilerplate right down to the last clue disclosure.

The shabby, overweight but competent Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) does the Washington-Post Woodward/Bernstein snooping, and cub reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) handles the new journalistic wrinkle, blogging and on-line. Besides Crowe's undeniable charisma even when his long hair gets in the way of his fatty food, the relationship between the two reporters evokes in a small way the old screwball comedy repartee of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, in which the exhilaration of the job comes long before any emotional connection.

Although the usual low drum rolls under scene changes, not everyone is as he seems, editors push deadlines, and political powerbrokers are the nexus of evil?it's all been done before, yet director Kevin Macdonald shows a sure hand at keeping the twists credible and ample. Allegorically the malicious company at the center of the investigation, PointCorp, hired to do heavy killing in the mid-east, is as close to Blackwater, or maybe Halliburton, as could be.

That all these suspicions could be so neatly figured out by these two reporters contending with a corporate machine more crooked than a government headed by, say a Dick Cheney, is my most serious complaint about an otherwise entertaining crime story. The halls of Congress are a slippery slope and reporters are not always solid citizens, but, hey, we knew that from other movies.

Relax and enjoy; reality is much scarier.