Journalist plays cop in hard-to-believe thriller

Wed Apr 15, 2009 11:54pm EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The peril in building a murder-mystery thriller around a journalist is that a reporter is not a cop.

Yet just about everything Russell Crowe does in "State of Play," as D.C. reporter Cal McAffrey, relates to police work, not journalism.

He visits an autopsy room, withholds evidence, grills a witness in a safe house, comes under fire more than once and targets the perp. He seldom has deadlines or writes anything.

The highly implausible "State of Play" makes for a reasonably good edge-of-your-seater as long as disbelief is suspended regarding everyone's professional duties. Reporters, cops, politicians -- no one behaves as they should. Perhaps that's what writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray and director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") have in mind, though: that the roles of the media, government and police have grown fuzzy as everyone is motivated more by self-interest and self-preservation than any search for the truth.

The film, which Universal releases Friday (April 17), looks like a solid mid-range performer at the box office. It offers nothing we haven't seen before in terms of chases, intrigue and betrayals, so for all its A-list cast and production values, the film comes off as routine.

The script is based on a 2003 BBC miniseries written by Paul Abbott, which took place in London, and the transition to the U.S. capital works surprisingly well. Today's bloggers nicely imitate Fleet Street, and a politician with zipper issues and concerns over private defense contractors are virtually ripped from the headlines.

Both productions feature these key ingredients: The seemingly random deaths of a young junkie shot execution style and a legislator's attractive research assistant in a subway accident that might be a suicide. The deaths prove to be related, and a reporter takes advantage of -- exploits? -- an old friendship with a legislator and his wife to get insider information. It's then a race among a news outlet, the police and government minions to ferret out the truth, though at least one of those estates probably wants the truth buried.

Crowe's Cal went to school with rising Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), knows his wife (Robin Wright Penn) better than a friend should and has an editor (Helen Mirren) under pressure from new corporate bosses. Consequently, there are so many conflicts of interest and ethical breaches contained within his every move that one ceases to keep track.   Continued...

<p>Actor Russell Crowe attends the premiere of the movie "Revolutionary Road" at the Mann Village theatre in Westwood, California December 15, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>