Monday, September 14, 2009

State of Play: Let's Co-Opt the British Some More

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Back in 2003, BBC One aired a television serial about journalism, political scandal, intrigue, murder, and conspiracy. So six years later, America decided "Hey! That was pretty good. But y'know what will make it even better? Let's condense it by one-third, stick Russell Crowe in it, make it set in Washington, and also put Ben Affleck in it." And you know what? They could have been wronger, but they were pretty wrong.


That's not to say that the film wasn't entertaining, because it was. Some interesting stuff happened, and it was trying very very hard to be suspenseful. It doesn't have a completely mind-blowing twist, or even a series of twists, but it's obvious that they put a lot of effort into being as taut as they could manage. It does have a surprisingly stellar cast, though (except for Ben Affleck). It stars Russell Crowe in the main role of reporter Cal McAffrey, Helen Mirren as his editor Cameron Lynne, li'l Benny Affleck as Congressman Stephen Collins, Rachel McAdams plays Della Frye, a modern media reporter (i.e. blogger) that gets partnered up with Cal, Jason Bateman as Dominic Foy, a strange li'l informer, Robin Wright Penn as Congressman Collins's wife Anne, and Jeff Daniels as Rep. George Fergus. It was directed by Kevin Macdonald, and he previously directed the acclaimed The Last King of Scotland. You'd think that there would be something more redeeming about this film with a cast like that, right? Well, it's only decent, but not awful.


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General plot time! A redheaded lady apparently commits suicide by jumping in front of a metro train. Turns out, she was having an affair with Congressman Collins. She also was the lead researcher for some crazy hearings that Collins was heading, something about private militias, or mercenaries, or something. A very prominent and rogueish reporter Cal McAffrey gets word of the scandal, because A) he works for a friggin' newspaper, and B) he was roommates in college with Collins (apparently, even though Russell Crowe is almost ten years older than Affleck). So, as per usual movie-style, McAffrey decides that he's the world's coolest detective, and tracks down the entire case and breaks it wide open like a cheap piñata. Also, Helen Mirren is a pretty bad-ass tough as nails Editor, and Jason Bateman is this strange, odd little bisexual club owner or something, with some vague connection to the victim. Jeff Daniels is a pretty ruthless and surprisingly evil Representative. There's a lot going on here, and I think that some threads get lost along the way, but overall, it remains entertaining throughout.


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One of the biggest issues that occurs with these kinds of films involving reporters is how they've become the new detectives. Do actual reporters really do that? Pore over case reports, go running around the city, "interviewing"/interrogating people? The Lady found that to be rather improbable, as well, and she's pretty swift. However, it's interesting in that these types of films are almost neo-noir-y, in that there are a lot of dark alleys, sort-of-shootouts, in-depth investigations, conspiracies, and intrigue. Are journalists the new private investigators? It's not the worst thing I can think of, but it still seems relatively unrealistic. But, then again, I'm not a reporter, so I don't really know how things work. It might be the most realistic thing, ever. Who's to say?


I was also really tired when I watched this movie, so I wasn't really paying attention to thing like mise-en-scéne, colors, sets, camera angles, editing techniques, or costumes. There may have been some carefully planned and subtle color work in play (though everything seemed vaguely gray, but who knows). In general, though, I'd say it was fairly entertaining, and it was worth the exchange of some money and some time.


I'd say it is worth checking out if you're so inclined. Russell Crowe is always good at becoming the character he plays. It bugs me about actors like Nicolas Cage and Kevin Costner, that I'm always extremely aware that they're Nicolas Cage and Kevin Costner playing a role. Rachel McAdams is adorable as usual, Ben Affleck is basically pretty blergh, and Helen Mirren is awesome. I give it three hardcore detective reporter crimefighters out of five, or three weepy congressman Ben Afflecks out of five.

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