Playing it straight

I watched “State of Play” the other day on a road trip through the winding hills of northern Arkansas.  Sitting in the back seat, being pulled left and right around the turns, was nauseating enough without adding the stimulation of a movie, not to mention the conversation of the people in the front seat in the background.  But I could not turn it off- that’s how much fun I was having seeing this film.

Russell Crowe is Carl McAffrey, a seasoned investigative journalist at a newspaper in financial straits, as most are.  He is an old-school type of reporter, bringing the police detectives coffee at the murder scene to try to sweet-talk quotes out of them.  The last thing a veteran like McAffrey would want to do is work with a rookie political blogger, played by Rachel McAdams. But uh oh, would’nt you know it- that’s exactly what happens.

That somewhat cliche script device of teaming up these two “surely incompatible” characters can be forgiven because the acting is so well done and the story is so fast-paced.  There’s no time wasted on a “we-sure-do-hate-eachother” montage; guided by Carl’s experience and drawn close by the dangerous waters in which they are swimming, the two become a team.

Ben Affleck also chips in a fine performance as rising-star politician Stephen Collins who becomes the center of a major Washington scandal when one of his female staffers is killed and Collins admits to having had an affair with her.  He is convinced the private defense contractor he is investigating has murdered the girl to disrupt the investigation. As Collins’ old college roomie, Carl takes up his fight and sets out to clear Collins’ name.  The question is whether his motivation is the true loyalty of a friend, or just a chance to get a good scoop. The action amps up steadily as Carl and Della (McAdams) close in on the truth, and the story.

Although it’s a small part, Jason Bateman completely steals the movie as a bisexual PR guy with a taste for a particular lifestyle on the weekends.  Think eyeliner and lots of leather.

“State of Play” is a great look inside both the print news business and the dirty underside of the Beltway.  If, like me, you are interested in journalism, hate Blackwater, and distrust the government, this movie is right up your alley. But this movie is also for anyone who likes a smart, well-written and well-acted thriller with enough twists and turns to keep you entertained and/or guessing until the end.

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