Posts Tagged ‘russell crowe’

Movie Reviews – State of Play

June 1, 2009

State of Play

This story deals with the death of the assistant to a US Congressman on the verge of a major inquiry into the corporate dealings of a private military contractor. Thanks to the efforts of investigative journalist, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), and online blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), it becomes clear that the circumstances surrounding the death are more than mysterious, and pretty soon forces are aligning to ensure that the true story never comes to light.

It’s not easy for the modern journo, and this movie gives us an inside look at the many problems they face bringing a successful story to completion – the age old tensions between journalist and source, the competing interests of journalist and editor, the moral ambiguity of journalists who withhold information from police, the often parasitic symbiosis between the media and politics and the contemptuous divide between old school investigative reporters and the growing legion of their blogging counterparts. Sure, Woodward and Bernstein had it tough bringing the Watergate scandal to light, but how would they handle the pressures from a sales driven media conglomerate ownership team who demand hourly updates of their stories online?

Crowe is great as the inquisitive, veteran journalist – gruff and disordered in his personal and professional life. An aging rock star of the newspaper industry’s once proud investigative circuit. McAdams brings the right mix of intelligence and enthusiasm to her role as the star of an online blog who is on her first foray into “real” journalism, and Ben Affleck more than holds his own as the conflicted Congressman at the heart of the whole affair. After some of the performances he has mailed in over the years, it’s easy to forget that Affleck can actually deliver when given the right opportunity.

Solid performances from an all-star supporting cast as well; Jeff Daniels, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright-Penn and Harry Lennix all produce noteworthy efforts, but it’s Jason Bateman who enters the story in the final 30 minutes and absolutely steals the show. Director Kevin McDonald shows the great eye for casting that he did in The Last King Of Scotland here, matching character personality to acting talent like a man who understands every nuance of his screenplay.

The pacing is perfect over the first three quarters of the film, building tension with twist after surprising twist as details behind the incident come to light. But I wonder if they didn’t go for one twist too many – one final, bet you didn’t see this coming effort that seemed a little forced to me.

This story was adapted from a UK TV series that was spread over six hours, so perhaps it was an issue of timing. Streamlining a mini-series into a 2 hour feature film, all whilst refreshing the tale with a modern take on military privatization and corporate skullduggery may have forced their hand slightly. The ending left me feeling like I was just coming to grips with the full implications of the previous plot twist when I was suddenly engaged with a new one. Of course, we can’t rule out that I might just be a little bit slow.

Don’t let that stop you from seeing this film though – because it is smart, often funny, and completely entertaining. A political thriller like they used to do it in the old days, featuring a great script, intriguing subject matter and a cast and crew who genuinely know their business.

Rating – 8/10

Random Quote – She had access to everything we were doing, and I believe they killed her for it.

Random Actor You Will Recognize From Somewhere Else – Michael Jace, who plays Julien in the TV series The Shield, pops up as a police officer again here.

Previous Movie Review – Angels & Demons


Top Three Russell Crowe Performances

May 28, 2009

We’re celebrating Russell Crowe’s new film, State of Play with a podium dedicated to the actor/singer/occasional scrapper.

This was a tough list to put together, with so many solid performances throughout Rusty’s career. Honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the podium include his work as Det. Richie Roberts in American Gangster, the Spaniard in The Gladiator, Captain Jack Aubrey in Master & Commander, and finally, his work as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind – a role he was nominated for an Oscar for. Solid stuff.

3. Cindarella Man

Crowe is outstanding in his portrayal of the real life Cindarella Man, James J. Braddock, the depression era prize fighter who overcame injury and poverty to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. I’m a sucker for a good boxing story, and this happens to be a very good boxing story indeed. The film features great performances from Renee Zellweger and a vastly under-rated Paul Giammatti. Ron Howard is also at his best here – but the movie belongs to Crowe, who plays Braddock with exactly the right mix of desperation, humility and pride.

2. LA Confidential

Bud White is more than just a rage fuelled, mean son of a bitch, but that’s what you see at first. The rest Crowe lets out a piece at a time, adding complexity as the film progresses. You start with his hatred of violence against women, for reasons hinted at rather than explained, and as the movie moves forward you see more of what makes the character tick; his relationship issues, his drive, his integrity and courage. Crowe adds each of these layers with an understated intensity, an iceberg of a performance where you see the tip of an emotion and yet can still guess at the depths of what lies beneath. But you know, let’s not get bogged down too heavily with that sort of artsy bullshit. Let’s just say Rusty kicks ass in this film and we’ll move on.

Fightin' Round The World was precluded on a technicality.

Fightin' Round The World was excluded on a technicality.

1. The Insider

We are miles away from the Gladiator and Master & Commander here. No stealing the lady with his quick witted charms. No grabbing his sword and fighting off the barbarians with a display of shock and awe. Crowe goes out on a limb – overweight, middle-aged, socially awkward and filled with doubt – and yet his portrayal of Jeffrey Wigand, a key whistle blower against Big Tobacco gives us a real life hero every bit as compelling as any of the other characters in the Crowe oeuvre. Rusty showed he didn’t need flash and special effects to carry a movie here, and more than held his own in pivotal scenes with Al Pacino. For mine, this is the standout performance in his career so far.

Previous Podium – Top Three Ben Stiller Movies