Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Movies: State of Play

State of Play is yet another B-list political thriller, hardly worth watching, even whilst confined to an airplane and the dreaded middle seat. While its unending plot twists are more infuriating than the kinks in an old garden hose hooked to a low pressure spigot, which problems can’t be blamed on baggy acting, poor screenwriting, and inept camera handling can be pinned on the genre itself. For there is nothing thrilling about politics. They may be interesting (on occasion), infuriating (often), and convoluted (always), but they are never, ever thrilling. By their multi-constituent nature, they grind, slowly. Even Obama wasn’t thrilling (we could see it coming a mile away). Even Nixon wasn’t thrilling (shocking, but not thrilling). Even the discovery that there were no WMDs in Iraq wasn’t thrilling. Politics buries truth in a snowstorm of fact, and fact are the opposite of thrilling.

This is why I find it so strange that the foil in every political thriller is the shabby newsman. If there’s anything less thrilling than politics, it’s news about politics: the same facts, scrambled and regurgitated, supposedly to elucidate the underlying truth, but buried in its own snowstorm of multi-constituent bullshit: more money and power and machine. The news, like politics, is typically disappointing, disenchanting, and despair-inducing. Occasionally, they get it right, but even when it’s inspiring, cutting to the bone, it’s not thrilling.

And yet, we are again offered the alcoholic, workaholic, pot-bellied bachelor (the inexorable Russell Crowe) pitted against his old college roommate and only real friend, the slick, handsome, young Congressman (Ben Affleck, well-cast insofar as that wooden waxiness particular to politicians comes naturally to him) in an intellectual race to unravel the ethical hairball of private security contracting, at home and abroad. In order to glam up the tedious dilemma, the screenwriter starts off with a purported suicide that Crowe proves to be a murder, which Crowe then proves to be an assassination. For added sex appeal, it turns out that the victim was not only the young Congressman’s research assistant, she was also his mistress—and pregnant, to boot (Crowe uncovers that bit too). With the newsman as our guide, we trust that she was killed by the big bad network of military contractors that the young Congressman has been roasting—she knew too much. But then we discover, along with Crowe, that the victim was actually a plant—a double agent, hired by the big bad corporation to monitor the young Congressman. This is just the news that Crowe needs to publish his big story, which feels great, since it’s also just the story that will help the young Congressman put the big bad Corporation under the bus. But as the one-screw-loose hitman—an ex-military man himself—chases Crowe through an underground parking lot, armed with a semi, Crowe realizes that the young Congressman has been in on it all along. . . The next two minutes sees the young Congressman indicted and the movie ended. Wait, what?

Not to mention that along the way, there are the added glamorous accessories of an additional affair (the shabby newspaperman and the young Congressman’s wife have an old spark to fan), a drug-and-sex fiend PR man (even Jason Bateman can’t make this role work), a homeless teenager with drug-dealer boyfriend and a stolen briefcase, some collateral damage (including the homeless teenager and a pizza guy), and a spunky young blogger (Rachel McAdams) who learns to give up her gossiping to be Crowe’s gal Friday, and like it.

This film is completely bereft of even the minutest mote of quality. The filmmakers have no respect for their audience. Structuring the plot around the righteous “down with government military contracting” theme is not a free pass to make such an offensively stupid movie. Further, anyone intellectually bankrupt enough to enjoy this PG-13 smut doesn’t know or care about government military contracting. Perhaps the worst thing about a political thriller is that people end up caring more about the thrill than the politics.

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