Carl Larsen | Newspaper guy solves murders, uncovers Washington baddies

Hard on the heels of “The Soloist” comes “State of Play,” another movie about the exciting lives of those rugged romantic rascals, the newspaper columnists. Don’tcha just love ‘em?
“State of Play,” still running at the downtown Dixie in Staunton, is just more proof that America can’t seem to get enough stories about the hard-working journalistic superheroes who labor endlessly away for our nearly extinct dinosaurs, the print newspapers. 

The film stars Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams as a pair of investigative journalists working for Helen Mirren, editor of the mythical Washington Globe. And in this latest release from the “All the President’s Men” genre, Ben Affleck is the Senator who is perhaps unjustly accused of bumping off his pretty mistress.

Robin Wright Penn plays Affleck’s wife who is, quite understandably, not terribly pleased with learning of her hubby’s diddling around. The Long Suffering Wife is becoming as much a cinematic staple in Washington as is the Amoral Politician. So who says Bill and Hilary didn’t contribute to pop culture?

Along the way we meet your standard cast of D.C. scoundrels and assassins, including a plumped-out Jeff Daniels as a power-brokering pundit.

This movie is based on a BBC series and is quite well done under the skilled direction of Kevin Macdonald (who also directed the outstanding “Last King of Scotland” in 2006), with a literate, fast-moving script mostly by thriller scripter Tony Gilroy.

The cinematic parallels to “All the President’s Men” are unmistakable; there’s even a Deep Throat informant and more twists and turns than you can shake a pretzel at. One too many, perhaps. But the suspense is unrelenting and as the secret Senatorial dastardly deeds gradually come to light, Russ and Rachel bounce the newspaper banter back and forth as cleverly as Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell ever did back in the Golden Age of both newspapers and movies.

Film critics and fans of the excellent BBC series both seemed to enjoy the film, so perhaps our thirst for conspiracy theory vehicles won’t dry up until the day Washington turns (Gulp!) honest. Lucky for movie fans, there seems to be no bottom to the well of distrust we have for the military-industrial complex and murky images of private security companies like Halliburton. The Brit villains are Big Oil. Samie-samie.

The BBC mini-series is six hours long and is excellent, with Bill Nighy in the Helen Mirren role. (In truth, in the American version, she doesn’t have a heck of a lot to do except state the newspaper’s position.) Nighy actually steals the English show, in the same manner that Jason Robards Jr. did in “All the President’s Men.”

Fans of Jason Bateman are likely to enjoy his cameo work as your standard sleazeball publicist, but the conceit of the film is still the one that lurks annoyingly in the background of all thrillers: the bad guys always have perfect timing, and know exactly where, when, and how to deploy their hired cold-blooded murderers.

But what the heck, we buy their evil omniscience so that we can just sit back, enjoy the thrill ride, and shake our heads hopelessly whilst contemplating the Evil That Men Do.

While the more casual and complex BBC version is an ensemble piece, this is clearly Russell Crowe’s movie. He plays the newspaper guy role as a sort of long-haired ex-hippie who’s been around the block but is still dedicated to digging up the truth. Just the kinda guy we need nosing around Washington. Or those smoky, political back rooms of Augusta County.

 

– Column by Carl Larsen


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