Thursday, January 30, 2014

State of Play (2009) [PG-13] ****



When Sonia Baker, an aide to ambitious young Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), dies under a Washington D.C. subway train, it's first reported as a suicide, and then an accident. But Collins is leading a House committee investigation into PointCorp, a private security firm, and Baker was Collins' lead researcher. Then it's revealed that Baker and Collins had been having an affair, and Collins' investigation of PointCorp gets buried by the scandal.

In a seemingly unrelated incident, two people are shot the same day Baker dies, and when Washington Globe journalist Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) begins to fit the puzzle pieces together, he and fellow reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) stumble upon a much larger conspiracy, one involving $40 billion worth of Homeland Security Department domestic security contracts that PointCorp is apparently prepared to kill to get. While Collins attempts to protect himself, his marriage and his political career, McCaffrey and Frye try to stay one step ahead of the police, solve the mystery and exonerate Collins, while putting together a story guaranteed to increase the Globe's circulation. But McCaffrey and Collins were college roommates, and Collins knows that McCaffrey was involved with his now-estranged wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn), so he questions McCaffrey's motives.

Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom, Lions for Lambs), Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Duplicity) and Billy Ray (Breach), and directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), this is a taut political thriller based on the rather plausible premise that domestic security in the U.S. is gradually being turned over to a private army, an army of mercenaries loyal only to a paycheck. The excellent supporting cast also includes Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman and Jeff Daniels. PointCorp is obviously a surrogate for Blackwater (now called Xe) and there actually are ongoing investigations into possible Blackwater atrocities in Iran and Afghanistan.

And, as mentioned in the film, the company really was contracted to provide security in New Orleans in 2005, after the devastation by Hurricane Katrina. However, although the acting is excellent, the story is not completely satisfying. The first two acts imply a political conspiracy reaching far higher and wider than a junior congressman and a single assassin, but the film's third act fails to deliver, leaving a host of questions unanswered. So, if you're a conspiracy theorist looking for a political thriller, great acting, lovely background cinematography of Washington D.C., and shots of black helicopters circling overhead, State of Play will provide it. But if you'd like to see some powerful political figures brought to justice, this is not the film. 

Labels: drama, mystery, thriller   
Internet Movie Database  
Metacritic 64/100 
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=69, viewers=72)    
Blu-ray1    
Blu-ray2

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