April 17th, 2009 5:33 pm | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

All the President's Bloggers: State of Play Reviewed


Both State of Play and 17 Again were screened on Tuesday night two hours after WW print deadlines, timing which is especially incongruous in the case of the first movie. I could only attend one showing, so a review of Zac Efron will have to wait until Monday. Meanwhile, here's…

State of Play

The only way the new Russell Crowe picture could appeal more brazenly to the print journalists reviewing it is if it concluded with a dedication to ink-stained wretches everywhere. Instead, State of Play—which gets its name from the British miniseries it's based upon, though it could easily have been called The Front Page or The Paper if those titles weren't already taken, or Whatever Happened to the Rocky Mountain News? if that weren't a little too on-the-nose—closes with an elegiac montage of a newspaper going to press, with the industrial collators and conveyors grinding to the tune of Creedence Clearwater Revival's “Long as I Can See the Light.” The lamp of newspapers may be snuffed wherever you look, but these credits promise defiant resilience, a redoubling of efforts, a Boxer's pledge of “I will work harder”—against mendacious politicians, sinister military-industrial profiteers, sensationalist cable-news networks and bloggers. Especially those damned bloggers.

State of Play is an effortful if highly conventional entertainment with its mind in the past—the 1970s, to be precise, when print journalism and paranoid thrillers were both at their zenith. Its first act is sparked by a script touched up by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity) and an authentically shambling performance by Crowe as the heroic reporter, its second act is given a jolt by Jason Bateman as a public-relations dickweed, and its third act is resuscitated by so many electric shocks that it suffers brain damage. Meanwhile it treats investigative journalism with the high esteem that comes with having no idea how it works. There is a fleeting reference to a public-records request, and a few halfhearted knocks on doors, but otherwise Crowe's character, Cal McAffrey, spends his time doing the kind of gumshoe double-crossing that might be practiced by a technologically savvy Sam Spade. He's surrounded by a fortress of papers—metaphor alert—and cherishes a stockpile of scorn for the online wing of his newspaper, the Washington Globe. In case his contempt isn't clear, the script has him make reference to “the bloodsuckers and the bloggers.” One of these types, we can assume, is a despicable, deadly parasite, and the other is just a leech.

Both are preying on a crusading Congressman played (passably) by Ben Affleck, whose intern/mistress has met a regrettable end at the business end of a subway train. This plot, with shades of the Chandra Levy scandal, is complicated by Crowe's buddy-buddy-but-I-slept-with-your-wife relationship, the journalistic chops of the Globe's resident lifestyles blogger (Rachel McAdams) and the dark-side practices of a Blackwater-like private military contractor. As the intrigue thickens (and neither Crowe nor McAdams files a single story, despite the apparent passing of several news cycles), director Kevin Macdonald flexes his eye for local color—crab shacks! Ben's Chili Bowl! The Watergate Hotel!—and Gilroy's dialogue. Choice cut: “Who do you think I am here? Bambi's baby brother?”

But the movie's also tests the audience's naïveté. Its showpiece is a cat-and-mouse hunt in a parking garage, with Crowe pursued by a paramilitary operative with a beef and a gun. Now, a D.C. parking garage, especially shown in the movies, possesses a distinctive architecture and a political resonance—it is inevitably haunted by the ghost of Deep Throat. State of Play wants to capitalize on memories of All the President's Men (it even kicks off its final montage with shots of typed words, this time on a computer monitor) but when it adds a screeching car chase to the garage disquiet, it feels like exploitation as much as homage. This hackery extends to the movie's glut of climatic twists, which ultimately echo the thinking that has undermined newspapers: the undiscriminating assumption that all public figures are equally corrupt. This isn't paranoia. It's cynicism.

Still, in this media climate it's best to look for silver linings, and State of Play provides a big one with Jason Bateman's performance as PR flack Dominic Foy, a shill so oiled you can smell the magazine perfume ads on the guy. Supercilious and craven, he even refers to other people by the cars they drive: “Hey, Saab.” Whatever fate awaits print journalists, we can be grateful we didn't end up like that scumbag, right?

State of Play is rated PG-13. It opened today at Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, Cinetopia, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas and Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.
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