The summer movies have yet to arrive, but 2009 has already treated us with a few surprises. State of Play, the political thriller starring Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels and Ben Affleck, is the best of the year thus far and could find its way into the Top Ten when all is said and done.
State of Play, based on a BBC miniseries, had the potential to be a disaster. After all, boiling down a complicated, six-hour drama-thriller into two hours - for American audiences no less - could have led to some major dumbing down. Thanks to superb direction by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void), smart writing by guys who collectively have written such films as Shattered Glass, Breach, Lions for Lambs, Michael Clayton and The Bourne Supremacy and excellent performances, State of Play is a taut, edgy and believable thriller that avoids such a date. The movie craftily merges political conspiracy with dialogue about the state of the newspaper industry, and even includes a fair amount of humor. All in all, it's a masterfully crafted and executed drama-thriller.
Sadly, the movie is tanking at the box office, as audiences would apparently prefer to see the likes of Zac Efron, Miley Cirus and shiny red cars. But that's a discussion for another day, another place.
In State of Play, Crowe plays a chiseled reporter for the Washington Globe who is assigned to investigate two seemingly drug-related murders. Coincidentally, or so it seems, the beautiful assistant and lover of his old college roommate, Rep. Stephen Collins, dies the next morning in a subway station, apparently committing suicide by jumping in front of the train. Crowe is matched with a smart but inexperienced Capitol Hill blogger, played by Rachel McAdams, as their stories cross paths - and explode into something much larger than either of them could have ever imagined.
Crowe is at his best, once again reminding us of just how talented he is. He's lost some of his star power since that phone-throwing incident (or was it a shoe?), but it's a shame; Crowe is one of the best actors working today, and can seemingly play any type of character. McAdams also delivers what could be the best performance of her career, showing that she can play with the big boys. Affleck also seems very well-suited for the role, and - I can't believe I'm saying this - but was actually a better choice than the previously attached Ed Norton (Brad Pitt was to play Crowe's character). Mirren, Penn, Daniels and a few others also deliver fine performances.
State of Play has some good twists, plenty of entertainment and a fair amount of suspense, easily making it the best movie of 2009 four months in. A perfect screenplay and spot-on acting make this a must-see.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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