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Apr 24, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: State of Play

"Can't do that, Frank. Fat Sam isn't the story, there's a source behind him."

"Who?"

"Well, there we're in kind of a grey area."

"How grey?"

"Charcoal."

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a movie that's ostensibly about the dying newspaper industry sprang Fletch to my mind. Anyone who has seen that 1985 masterpiece knows that it's not just a murder-mystery-comedy featuring one-liners galore, but an in-depth, frank and humorous look at the way the newspaper industry works. Or maybe it just gets that way after a thousand viewings.

But it's true - the frequent rat-a-tat tête-à-têtes (read that five times fast) between Russell Crowe's Cal McAffrey and his editor, Cameron Lynne (played by Helen Mirren) have more in common with Irwin M. Fletcher and editor Frank than you might think. I could even make the argument that Rachel McAdams' Della Frye is the modern-day version of Geena Davis's Larry...but I won't.

In case you haven't heard (you have), State of Play serves as a 21st-century love letter to not only newspapers, but REPORTERS. JOURNALISTS. The type of guys and gals that not only don't have a life (or sleep), but prefer it that way. They work hard, they drink hard, they make lots of phone calls, knock on lots of doors, then go home at 3:00 am to sleep for two hours before doing it all over again. (And if the film had any guts, they'd be smoking like a chimney, too.) They also wouldn't have it any other way.

I'm of two minds on this story. I've been hearing a ton of it lately, from State of Play to Bill Simmons' podcasts, where he waxes poetic about the state of newspapers and blogging on a near-daily basis, to random articles around the web. On the one hand, I can see that newspapers, and the gritty, idealistic journalists like McAffrey, are vital to free speech and the American Way (that is, if they really exist), and if they were to disappear, our system of checks and balances might get scary quickly. On the other hand, it's a reality of the business that most major newspapers (and other media outlets) are all a part of only a handful of conglomerations. With but a few massive organizations, each with giant bottom lines and pressure from stockholders, is the public's best interest really being taken into account? With independent newspapers, bloggers and other facets of the new media, would we be better off without newspapers?

Heady topics that won't be answered here today, and don't need to be. State of Play has made up its mind - the corporation that has just purchased the fictional Washington Globe remains a faceless entity, constantly pressuring Mirren's editor to get the hot story off the presses right damn now, regardless of whether small things like facts or conjecture are getting in the way (or whether or not said story qualifies more as tabloid-fodder than worthy of a top-tier newspaper). They've dared to change from the old-style title font to some modern logo, and have even had the nerve to bring on bloggers to their staff (McAdams). Only over the course of the film does the blogger learn the TRUE ways of journalism from the old hand McAffrey.

In case it's not evident, State of Play is often preachy regarding its beliefs. It has important things to say about the, um, state of the newspaper industry (along with some good digs at a Blackwater-type ops corporation), but, probably because it's squeezed from a BBC miniseries down to a two-hour form, feels at times more like a brochure with bolded, bulleted key points rather than a juicy book. Another thing not helping the case is the semi-rote mystery creating all of the headlines; by the time you reach the conclusion, you'll have realized that, had the story not gone in this direction, there would be no point to telling the story at all.

All of which isn't to sad that it's bad or that I didn't enjoy State of Play. It's good, not great, with the expected solid acting from Mirren and Robin Wright Penn (Affleck holds his own and Crowe mostly sleepwalks - in a good way, I suppose). It also features the getting-great Jeff Daniels (who can't seem to get a decent-sized role these days) and the hands-down funniest performance of the year thus far in Jason Bateman's sleazeball, cokehead PR guy. Bateman enters the film right about the start of the third act, and he couldn't have come at a better time - you can almost literally feel him jolt the screen, and the lightness he brings is crucial in a film that's full of dread and depression much of the time.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"


3 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: State of Play"

Farzan said...

Interesting review Fletch, I thought the movie was great. Sure it had tons of dialogue and it also felt like a bunch of ideas smashed together, but I thought they did rather well trying to fit most of the mini-series into a 2 hour film. Bateman was also good and funny in his role.

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Reel Whore said...

It would have been nicer if it were grittier; I'd have added onscreen promiscuity and more cursing to your smoking. Still, I enjoyed State of Play.

And Jason Bateman probably raised it a rating just for his awesome appearance!