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State Of Play

I didn’t watch the BBC original: this is probably a good thing as tiresome comparisons would no doubt be pointless anyway. Let it stand on its own merits, or lack thereof. A bit of both, in fact.

Baffleck is a dour congressman. Is this good acting or is he phoning this in? It’s hard to tell. He’s certainly lacking substance and makes for a believable cipher politician, all slick poise and nascent abrasion. Anyway, one of his staff gets shoved in front of a speeding train and he’s all grief-stricken. He wells up. But in no time, he’s being romantically-linked with his late former underling and it’s not looking good. His whiter-than-white façade is looking flimsy and his future ambitions are at stake. What to do?

Implausibly enlist the help of former room-mate Russell Crowe, now a Pullitzer-winning (the film never confirms as much but you can imagine) journo with an edge and a taste for the big stuff (and the hard stuff – this is Crowe, you immediately imagine him glonking down a pint of Jim Beam as he bangs out his latest Gonzo-esque masterpiece at 3am). Crowe is unhesitant and quickly gets about finding out as much as he can about the deceased as part of his Affleck character-reboot. Several unlikeables join the fray: Jeff Daniels as a poisoned-looking suit, Michael Baresse as a dead-eyed assassin and an impressively detestable Jason Bateman as a smug club promoter.

As is always the case with the conspiracy-thriller, all manner of things unfold and one or two twists are never too far away. Unfortunately, there are no surprises, and that’s without having seen the original or wikipedia-ing the story. It’s all a bit unexciting and rather obvious. You will probably figure it all out before the first major scene is over, but that serves you right for not suspending your disbelief.

‘Corridors of deceit’ political films had their heyday in the 70’s, and Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy has a hand in this) was a superior hark back to those days of intellectual thrillers. This isn’t terrible by any means, and is a worthwhile effort. Some of the scenes aren’t lit sufficiently (what is this obsession with ridiculously low light in films these days? As though it lends a film dread and sophistication: it doesn’t – it makes you squint) and the film is too slight to keep you that interested. But it’s respectably respectful of its audience and some scenes are extremely well done. Underground car park dread? Lurking oddballs on night-time street corners? Always good to have these present and correct in such an endeavour and there are perfectly good examples within the two hours.

Helen Mirren is also in this as Crowe’s editor, and she’s having far too much fun to give any kind of performance. She’s not bad, she just isn’t trying. No need. Rachel McAdams is trying, but she’s lost: trying to buy her as some kind of driven cub reporter with an eye on Mirren’s job in 30 years is laughable. She’s cute with an IQ, with a Disney, box-office face but no real acting chops or spine. Robin Wright Penn is superb but gets about three scenes, and may well not even have a line in one of them. Wasted.

It’s left to Russell Crowe – drafted in as Leonardo DiCaprio jumped due to other commitments – to give the film its ballsy integrity and he carries the whole slightly daft thing with ease. He offers up a well-judged, clever performance – nervy when he needs to be, dubious at all the right times, always believable – that must rank along with his best. And you’re happy to see him bound off through the office victoriously at the close of play with doe-eyed McAdams by his side. You’re just worried if she can handle what’s next. Anne Hathaway would surely have gone several rounds, at least.

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