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State of Play – A Review

Clark Kent wouldn’t have blogged. Damon Runyon wouldn’t have had a website. Why? Because there’s no romance in on-line journalism. The newsroom is romantic. Cigarettes and type-writers are romantic. Journalism is romantic. But not on-line news. The very act of sitting alone at a keyboard is an anathema to journalism. Reporters need to be out in the world, chain-smoking, nursing a hangover, living dangerously. Even a so-so reporter-movie like State of Play still makes reporting look like a great institution. And the idea we might lose newspapers to blogs is soul-destroying. The world needs hacks, not stay-at-homes.

As the cops shuffle around a murder scene wishing they were in a cop movie, reporter Russell Crowe arrives to start picking at a mystery. A drug-addict has been shot, but so too has a pizza delivery guy. That same morning, a hot-bodied congressional aid jumps in front of a train. Crowe doesn’t know there’s a connection, but he does know the congressman the hot-bodied aid had been aiding. Turns out, the congressman was investigating military out-sourcing. Could the aid have been pushed in front of that train? With a deadline bearing down and the body-count rising, Crowe determines to solve the crime, write the story and screw The Drudge Report.

Ever since Russell Crowe entered his fat period, there have been times when his waistline didn’t match his role. As a nightstick-tough cop in American Gangster, you could be forgiven for thinking he’d been hogging the doughnuts. But in State of Play, the belly feels right. Reporters are meant to eat crap and scowl at gymnasiums. Crowe’s slovenly, hobbit-y, three-days-without-a-shower look fits right in with the D.C. newsroom milieu. And he acts well in this movie, whether squabbling with Helen Mirren or blowing his chances of a shag from Robin Wright Penn. He’s right at home as a man who’s smarter than everyone, but too stuck in his ways to rule the world. You never quite buy that he’d be friends with Ben Affleck, but it’s fun watching Affleck sweat as Crowe gobbles up their scenes.

No man ever got shit on worse than Affleck. And while he deserved it after… his career, he’s a good man in spite of Pearl Harbour, so he also deserves a second chance. Yes, he still acts like Action Man and there’s a discrepancy between his lantern jaw and convincing you as a human being. But State of Play casts him for his Boy Scout qualities and he has at least one great moment where he learns about a hidden pregnancy. When dismay hits him it’s like watching a fencepost splinter.

Of course, Russell Crowe isn’t alone in his investigations. Rachel McAdams has returned from Ryan Gosling’s basement (or wherever she’s been) to play Crowe’s sidekick. McAdams was the girl with the world at her feet after The Notebook, but she didn’t seem to want to act after Wedding Crashers. If you don’t remember her: think of the kind of girl who’d have been back at H.Q. in a WWII movie and wrap her in American Apparel – that’s Adams. Every time she’s on screen you picture David Niven offering her a cigarette. She’s a little young for Crowe’s love interest in State of Play, but you can see he’d take a shower for her.

State of Play isn’t going to save the newspaper business. It isn’t going to spark a trend for verbose thrillers either. The movie is too comfortable being “well-crafted” to make anyone’s heart dance. But it does talk about something important. If newspapers die out, it isn’t just whisky and cigarette manufacturers who will suffer, it’s all of us. Blogs can’t substitute for journalism. Reporters – magnificent bastards one and all – need newsrooms, and bars, and abortive affairs with their colleagues to function. They need other reporters, in short. Blogging is too solitary – too sanitary – for reporters. Real news is written by guys who do more than write.

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