September 1, 2009

"State of Play" now on DVD

Here's my full-length review of Russell Crowe's spring thriller "State of Play:"

“State of Play” is an intermittently intelligent Capitol Hill thriller based on a celebrated 2003 BBC miniseries. The story was Americanized by at least five competent Hollywood hacks, including Tony Gilroy, who wrote the similar “Michael Clayton,” one of George Clooney’s movies about a murderous corporate conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.

The new film starts out much like “Michael Clayton” and “Syriana,” just even more Ripped from the Headlines, with Ben Affleck as a Gary Condit-like Congressman. (Politics may be show business for ugly people, but Affleck’s convincingly wooden performance suggests that Congress is for handsome but mediocre thespians whose range is restricted to acting sincere.) The Representative’s Chandra Levy-like staffer, who is investigating a Blackwater-like mercenary-monger, gets hit by a subway train.

After the politician persuades his Silda Spitzer-like wife to stand by him at a news conference where he admits to the affair, he hides out in the disheveled apartment of his one-time college roommate, an old-fashioned investigative journalist at a declining Washington Post-like newspaper. The besieged Congressman discloses that he thinks his mistress was murdered because she was getting too close to the truth: the Blackwaterish firm is going to take over America with its private army.

Brad Pitt was cast as the reporter hero of “State of Play,” but walked away at the last moment due to script objections. I admired, however, the way the later plot developments undermined the clich├ęs of Clooney’s conspiracy genre. The boring truth is that in America, politically connected CEOs seldom rub out their rivals. As the Rep. Jane Harman-Haim Saban wiretap scandal demonstrates, Washington conspiracies are mostly talk. Moreover, Russians and Mexicans scoff at the small sums that buy our politicos, such as the Congressman caught with $90,000 in his icebox. (Although now that so many trillions have gone up for grabs, perhaps we can hope our oligarchs will at least give us some satisfying entertainment in return for our bailout billions by starting to shoot each other over the money …)

With Pitt out, a pudgy Russell Crowe jumped in. Like Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski,” Crowe looks fat and happy in a role where abs don’t matter. Early in this decade, Crowe was the finest leading man in Hollywood, starring in “Gladiator,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Master and Commander,” and “Cinderella Man.” Since then, however, he seems to find himself with empty stretches on his schedule, perhaps because he’s seen as an ornery party animal. (On New Year’s Eve in 1999, while the rest of the world was timidly hunkering down in fear of Y2K glitches, Crowe celebrated with millennial gusto, getting himself arrested for disturbing the peace three times.) Crowe’s Aussie manliness carries him through his under-rehearsed role, and the celebrity’s personal distaste for journalists adds interest to what could have been a routine hagiography.

To chase down the conspiracy, Crowe’s veteran reporter teams up with a callow blogger (the ever-perky Rachel McAdams of “Wedding Crashers”). Much banter about the rivalry between print and online journalism ensues. Yet the movie misses the key personality difference between traditional media and the more Aspergery culture of the Web: newspaper reporters converse constantly, while Web people prefer Google to human contact. Young Matthew Yglesias, for instance, recently declared on his blog, “Definitely the whole time I was employed at The Atlantic I never once returned a voicemail. … In general, I’m not a fan of talking on the phone ...”

The movie portrays Crowe’s aging reporter as a solitary man, trudging alone to confront the powerful in their lairs. In reality, as Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop made clear, traditional reporters are most comfortable in packs, where they can gauge what’s “appropriate” to ask and to write from the consensus of their colleagues.

Just when the strident soundtrack (synthesizers and militaristic drums relentlessly barking “Tense up!”) and now-mandatory Shaky-Cam cinematography have almost ruined a decent if predictable story, an amusingly florid Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) shows up as a hedonistic public relations consultant, seemingly to contrast the greed of the flack with the nobility of the crusading journalist. The film’s countless screenwriters, though, are aware that reporters, such as the New York Times’ Judith Miller, who pipelined so much pro-Iraq war propaganda, are often just more respectable PR agents, publicizing messages in return for access to newsmakers.

From there, the movie keeps departing from its earlier Vast Corporate Conspiracy rut, ending with a plot twist that, while contrived, is surprisingly realistic.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

15 comments:

RWF said...

"Politics may be show business for ugly people, but Affleck’s convincingly wooden performance suggests that Congress is for handsome but mediocre thespians whose range is restricted to acting sincere."

#applause#.

Great line and so true.

Brad G said...

Crowe owns a rugby league team here in Australia:


http://www.rabbitohs.com.au/

and he based his performance, in part, on a certain dishevelled sports journo from Sydney:

http://www.leaguehq.com.au/articles/2009/06/05/1243708604770.html

jimbo said...

I might have to see it, just for Jason Bateman - a five-minute appearance by him is enough to almost redeem some absolute stinkers...

Anonymous said...

Crowe was born in NZ, and when he wins an Oscar he is a Kiwi, but when he throws a phone at someone, he's an Aussie.

agnostic said...

OT on race and mortgage delinquency:

Summary

A WSJ blog write-up says there are race/ethnicity effects even controlling for other risk factors.

Anonymous said...

Was the movie any good? Sounds dumb. That Michael Clayton was stupid too but it had that up to date production that woo-ed em.

Anonymous said...

Yet the movie misses the key personality difference between traditional media and the more Aspergery culture of the Web: newspaper reporters converse constantly, while Web people prefer Google to human contact. Young Matthew Yglesias, for instance, recently declared on his blog, “Definitely the whole time I was employed at The Atlantic I never once returned a voicemail. … In general, I’m not a fan of talking on the phone ...”

Do you really think of the phone as human contact, Steve?

I think of human contact as meeting someone in person. But I'm one of those young whipper-snappers: f I get voicemail, I hang up and just send whoever I'm trying to talk to an email.

Anonymous Whippersnapper

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

The posted link makes no such claim as decribed by the poster.


OT on race and mortgage delinquency:

Summary

A WSJ blog write-up says there are race/ethnicity effects even controlling for other risk factors.

Babylon said...

Steve this is off-topic, but in a recent article in the National Post Conrad Black says the following:

"The theory of the inevitable rise of China is similar to the recent theory of the inevitable end of the U. S. as a mainly Caucasian country: It is based on the extrapolation of current statistics that will not continue, and that in the case of the Chinese economy, are a fiction anyway."

Well you're the stats whiz, so what do you make of his point about the US remaining a Caucasian country?

Whingeing Pom said...

Crowe was born in NZ, and when he wins an Oscar he is a Kiwi, but when he throws a phone at someone, he's an Aussie.

Haha.

That makes me think of that great line from the early eighties NZ Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon. When asked if he was concerned that many young young Kiwis were emigrating to Australia, Muldoon replied "Not at all, it raises the IQ of both countries".

Anonymous said...

I was inspired to rent it just now on Comcast. It started out strong with a black kid as the purse snatcher instead of an Italian, held my interest for a while and then descended into Hollywood plot hell as a magical teenage junkie appears to cement the plot lines together. It recovered somewhat but never really lived up to the promise of the opening half hour. My observation is this is typical of "modern" Hollywood films, usually the first 30-45 minutes are strong and then something so fake or absurd happens that the narritive spell is broken.

Bob said...

Babylon:

Conrad Black is wrong.

In 2007 only 53.6% of births in the USA were to white non-hispanic mothers (so says the CDC). Some of these new white mothers mated with non-whites.

Add in the fact that most immigrants are non-white, and all white countries have low birth rates, I don't see how the US can stay majority white for much longer.

Steve Sailer said...

Paul Newman always said the first 15 minutes are what sells the screenplay to the studio and the last 15 minutes are what sells the movie to the audience. So that leaves a big chunk in the middle.

Anonymous said...

"That makes me think of that great line from the early eighties NZ Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon. When asked if he was concerned that many young young Kiwis were emigrating to Australia, Muldoon replied "Not at all, it raises the IQ of both countries "

Muldoon perfected the art of treating liberal journalists with utter disdain bordering on contempt, a skill which is sorely lacking in today's politician. It was the game he enjoyed most.

He did another clever thing...when answering inane questions, he turned and looked directly at the camera, never at the reporter. He knew how to reach punters in TV land.

Anonymous said...

Steve
I am confused.
On one hand, you made fun of white liberals who supported Obama because you believed that many of them thought that his election to the Presidency would encourage other blacks to be like Obama. You implied that this line of thinking was ludicrous.
On the other hand, you seem to believe that elite, white liberals (i.e. the counterculture) were able to succesfully transmit their contempt for traditional social mores to the same population of blacks.
Resolve that inconsistency for me. Why aren't there more black Jefferson Starship and Neil Diamond fans?