“STATE OF PLAY” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the 2009 political thriller, “STATE OF PLAY”, starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck:

“STATE OF PLAY” (2009) Review

Aside from the Liam Neeson thriller, ”TAKEN”, I must admit that I never found the movies released during the first three months of 2009 that impressive. They were not been terrible. But I did harbor this feeling that I had been wallowing in a sea of mediocrity during those months. Thankfully, this feeling ended when I saw the political thriller directed by Kevin Macdonald called, ”STATE OF PLAY”.

Based upon the critically acclaimed 2003 British miniseries of the same name,”STATE OF PLAY” was about a Washington D.C. newspaper’s investigation into the death of a young congressional aide named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) and centers around the relationship between leading journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) and his old friend Robert Collins (Ben Affleck), a U.S. congressman on the fast track and Baker’s employer. When Congressman Collins learns of his aide’s death, he asks his old friend, McAffrey to investigate her death when it is labeled as a suicide. McAffrey and a blogger with his newspaper named Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) not only learn that Baker was Congressman Collins’ mistress, but there might be a connection between her death and the private military company that the congressman was investigating.

I have heard a few proclaim that the original British miniseries is superior to this version.  I have seen the miniseries and it is pretty damn good, but I must admit that I found this version of ”STATE OF PLAY” to be just as impressive.  Kevin Macdonald’s solid direction screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan, and Billy Ray created a tight thriller filled with interesting glimpses into the press and Washington politics.  This film never became critically acclaimed as the British miniseries (even if it deserved to be), but it was an excellent, well-acted movie filled with first-rate performances. And its story – unlike previous movies I have recently watched – did not end on a disappointing note. The movie ended with an unexpected twist that surprised me.

Russell Crowe led the cast, portraying Washington Globe journalist, Cal McAffrey. I would not consider his role as interesting as the Ed Hoffman character from ”BODY OF LIES”, Bud White in ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”, Jeffrey Wigand in ”THE INSIDER”or his Oscar winning role in ”GLADIATOR” – Maximus Decimus Meridius. His Cal McAffrey is on the surface, an affable, yet slightly jaded reporter who becomes a relentless truth-seeker when pursuing a special story. In the case of Sonia Baker, McAffrey’s relentless investigation seemed rooted in his desire to extract his friend Collins from the gossip slingers over the latter’s affair with the aide and focus upon bringing down the private military company being investigated by Collins. Crowe is at turns relaxed and at the same time, intense and single-minded in his pursuit of journalistic truth.

Several years ago, I had found myself thinking that if there was ever a remake of the 1950 classic, ”SUNSET BOULEVARD”, who could portray the doomed Hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis. The first person that immediately came to my mind was Ben Affleck. Actress Nancy Olson once described William Holden at the time that particular movie was filmed as the typical handsome Hollywood leading actor . . . but with a touch of corruption that made his Joe Gillis so memorable. Frankly, I could say the same about Affleck. I saw him display this same trait in movies like ”BOUNCE”and ”HOLLYWOODLAND”. And I could see it in his performance as Congressman Robert Collins. Affleck managed to skillfully project Collins not only as a dedicated crusader who is determined to bring down the private military company with a congressional investigation, but also a flawed man who became sexually attracted to his beautiful aide, while struggling to control his anger at the knowledge of his wife Anne’s (Robin Wright Penn) past affair with McAffrey.

The rest of the cast included Rachel McAdams’ solid portrayal of a popular blogger turned junior political reporter named Della Frye, who finds herself in the midst of the career-making story and mentored by McAffrey. Helen Mirren’s Washington Globeeditor Cameron Lynne is wonderfully splashy and strong, without being over-the-top. I could say the same for Jason Bateman’s performance as a bisexual fetish club promoter named Dominic Foy, who has the information that McAffrey and Frye need. Michael Berresse portrayed a mysterious hitman named Robert Bingham and he does a pretty good job. However, I must admit that I found his performance as a sociopath a little over-the-top . . . especially in his last scene. Although not as memorable as some of the other supporting cast, both Harry Lennix as a Washington D.C. cop and Jeff Daniels as Affleck’s congressional mentor gave solid support to the movie. And there is Robin Wright Penn, who portrayed the congressman’s wife, Anne Collins. Penn gave a complex performance as the politician’s wife who is not only hurt and betrayed by her husband’s infidelity, but wracked with guilt over her own past indiscretion with McAffrey, along with desire for him.

If you are expecting ”STATE OF PLAY” to be the next ”ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” or ”SEVEN DAYS IN MAY”, you are going to be slightly disappointed. I have seen a few political films of slightly better quality.  But I can honestly say that I still found ”STATE OF PLAY” to be a first-rate, entertaining movie filled with intelligence, humor and a strong and steady cast.

“MIAMI VICE” (2006) Review

“MIAMI VICE” (2006) Review

When I first heard that Michael Mann had filmed a remake of the 1984-1989 classic crime drama, “MIAMI VICE”, I was excited. Despite the disappointing way it went off the air, I had remained a big favorite of the show – especially its first two seasons. 

Then word began to circulate that the movie version, which starred Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell was not as good as the NBC series. I heard that it lacked the style of the series and had a poor story. But despite all of the negative comments that had circulated, I was determined to see the movie and judge it for myself.

“MIAMI VICE” – namely the 2006 movie – began with Miami-Dade Police detectives Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, James “Sonny” Crockett and their colleagues working undercover at a Miami nightclub to bring down a prostitution ring. In the middle of their sting operation, they are contacted by their former informant Alonzo Stevens, who believes that his wife is in danger. Stevens also reveals that he has been working as an informant for the F.B.I. and believes that he may have been compromised. Tubbs and Crockett learn that Stevens’ wife was killed. And when they inform the informant, he commits suicide. Through their supervisor, Lieutenant Martin Castillo, the partners are recruited by F.B.I. Special Agent John Fujima to pose as drug smugglers, investigate a highly sophisticated Columbian drug ring and discover the identity of the Columbians’ informant. Tubbs and Crockett manage to infiltrate the Columbians’ drug ring, but in doing so, they come across Jose Yero, the paranoid associate of drug lord Archangel de Jesus Montoya. Even worse, Crockett becomes romantically involved in Montoya’s mistress/financial adviser, Isabella.

Needless to say, I had ignored the negative comments about “MIAMI VICE” back in 2006 and went to see it anyway. And I enjoyed it . . . a lot. I enjoyed it so much that I saw it for a second time in the theaters, before I bought the DVD copy when it was first released. Like many others, I had expected to be very similar to the 1984-1989 television series. The sleek, colorful style from the series remained, which the fast cars and boats and sleek fashion for the cast members. But cinematographer Dion Beebe utilized colors that seemed less pastel and a little more darker. But the music – up-to-date – remained intact. I also noticed that the plot written by Michael Mann utilized elements from the television series’ episode (1.15) “Smuggler’s Blues”“MIAMI VICE” also featured some great action sequences. My favorite proved to be the outstanding shootout in the movie’s finale that featured the Miami-Dade Police and the Aryan Brotherhood working for Yero. My only complaints about “MIAMI VICE” proved to be its opening and fade-out scenes. Both seemed a bit too abrupt for my tastes, but that is Michael Mann for you. He did the same with his 1995 movie,“HEAT” and his 2004 flick, “COLLATERAL”.

Aside from Dion Beebe’s photography, the other changes featured in the 2006 movie proved to be the relationship between Ricardo Tubbs and fellow police detective, Trudy Joplin. Despite the on-screen chemistry between Philip Michael Thomas and Olivia Brown in the television series, Tubbs and Trudy remained friends and colleagues during the series’ five-year run. Michael Mann changed the nature of their relationship in the movie by allowing them to be both colleagues and lovers. In fact, the movie featured a very sexy and romantic love scene with Jamie Foxx and Naomie Harris, who portrayed the characters in the film. And unlike the television series, Sonny Crockett is not divorced, nor did he have a troublesome relationship with another colleague, Gina Calabrese. Instead, Crockett found himself falling in love with drug kingpin Archangel Montoya’s lover and financial adviser, Isabella.

Both Jamie Foxx and Colin Ferrell were great, along with Gong Li, Naomie Harris and the rest of the cast. The partnership dynamics between Foxx and Farrell in the movie seemed to be different than the one between Thomas and Don Johnson in the television series. Do not get me wrong. Both Foxx and Farrell were excellent and had great chemistry. But their chemistry was different than the one between Johnson and Thomas. In this film, Tubbs is portrayed as the more mature partner; whereas Crockett served that role in the television series. And I was especially impressed by Foxx. For a guy that started out as a comic, he struck me as very commanding as Ricardo Tubbs. Whereas Johnson seemed to dominate the partnership in the television series, Foxx seemed to do so in the movie. This is not surprising, considering that Foxx is nearly a decade older than Farrell. The one other performance that really impressed me came from the always talented John Ortiz, who portrayed Montoya’s paranoid henchman, Jose Yero.

It is a pity that the public and critics did not appreciate “MIAMI VICE” when it was first released back in 2006. Perhaps they honestly believed it was a mediocre or below par movie from Michael Mann. Then again . . . perhaps they had expected it to be more like the the television series from the 1980s. Yes, the movie had its flaws. But despite the latter, “MIAMI VICE” proved to be one of my favorite Mann films. And I had never expected for this to happen.