The Crowe Flies! Russell Rules as Rusty, Truth-Seeking Journo

c sarrisstateofplay The Crowe Flies! Russell Rules as Rusty, Truth Seeking JournoState of Play
Running time 127 minutes
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray
Directed by Kevin MacDonald
Starring Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman

Kevin MacDonald’s State of Play, from a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, is based on the six-hour BBC miniseries created by Paul Abbott. The action has been shifted from London to Washington, D.C., which lends itself rather too easily to all sorts of conspiracy scenarios.

Russell Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, an investigative reporter for the Washington Globe, who has many potential conflicts of interest as he pursues the mystery of several seemingly unrelated homicides that are eventually connected to a Congressional committee overseeing corruption charges in the defense budget. The chairman of the committee, Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), is a rising political star in the Kennedy mold, and an old friend of McAffrey’s. The reporter is thus thrust into a difficult position by his hard-headed editor, Helen Mirren’s Cameron Lynne, who wants a front-page story to emerge from the political scandal arising from the mysterious death of Senator Collins’ beautiful young staff member, Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), with whom Collins had an affair.

A further complication for McAffrey in covering the story is his own old affair with Robin Wright Penn’s Anne Collins, Stephen’s wife, torn between loyalty to her husband’s ideals and regrets for the lost intimacy they once shared. McAffrey’s guilt over his betrayal of his old buddy impels him to shape his story in a way that will not damage his friend’s reputation. McAffrey is thus compromised from the outset and is helped in finding his way back into honest journalism by a nervy young Globe blogger and cub reporter, Rachel McAdams’ Della Frye. One of the refreshing aspects of the film is the nonsexual relationship between McAffrey as an old-style journalist and Della Frye as his technologically more advanced disciple. Between them, they find all the missing links to the exploding Washington, D.C., political scandal that finally hits the front page of the Globe.

The result is a dark, dour film, both literally and figuratively, as cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s suspense-laden camera angles keep the central characters perpetually at risk from the swirling variety of passersby in the bustling capital city.

Contributing to the many intrigues in the narrative are Jason Bateman’s amusingly unsavory political fixer and PR specialist, Dominic Foy, and Jeff Daniels’ sinister schemer, Representative George Fergus, who advises Collins to lie low for the sake of the young congressman’s political ambitions.

Nonetheless, it is Mr. Crowe who lends State of Play a sense of perpetual urgency as he traverses the corridors of power in search of massive wrongdoing at the risk of his own life. His is an idealized portrait of a Washington journalist, to be sure, but he remains thoroughly credible as a passionate truth-seeker even when he is pitted against evil forces lurking at the highest levels of power and influence.

I have been following Mr. Crowe’s career ever since his 1991 supporting stint in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Proof. Now in his mid-40s, Mr. Crowe may be in his prime. The only question is whether his offscreen shenanigans can keep him from getting all the good roles he deserves. As it is, he stands out as one of the greatest performing talents of the past two decades

asarris@observer.com