The eye is keen. The mind is thoroughly grounded. The goal is to maintain a sense of intellectual honesty while exploring the culture of criticism and evaluating creativity in all its glory.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Two for One - part II

I had to watch the second Affleck movie a second time since the double feature night of quite a while ago. It’s not that this movie is bad, nor that Affleck did a terrible job ... it actually is, in my opinion, one of his best performances. As I said in part one, I think this movie helped me understand what it is that I don’t care for with Ben Affleck’s acting. There is a thing I call ‘regional nuance’ that everybody takes on. For me, I am a northern girl with about as much social class as a rock. For Affleck, he’s an east-er who has a certain polished sense about him. Perhaps it’s the way he speaks, the slickness of his hair, the stylish way clothes hang on him, or maybe his voice just isn’t quite low enough to feel truly manly and commanding. Maybe it’s a combination of all those things. Whatever it is, the aspects of regional nuance helped make this movie more enjoyable for me simply because I believed all the characters the performers played. Yes ... even Ben Affleck. But why have I not been able to write about it?

As I batted excuses around in my brain this week I believe I came up with the reason. Honestly, I think this movie hit too close to reality for me. Many things written into this drama that were meant to twist and surprise the viewer are part of our everyday way of life, and my moments to escape took me nowhere but to the here and the now. After the movie, I think the first thing my husband and I said to each other was, “Why the hell can’t we find a reporter like that today?” And then it hit me .... that’s what they WANTED me to think! All the cliche good guy/bad guy stuff is in our face and I refuse to play into the emotions of military bad, newspapers good, corporations bad, politicians slimy, bloggers bad, police stupid, uhhh ... wait ... what was that politician slimy part? I might buy into that! Seriously, though, if you forget any sort of agenda and simply follow the tale along, the movie is entertaining and thought provoking.  I don’t mean social conscience sort of thought provoking – I mean once all the pieces fall into place I had to sit and ponder to try to figure out who in the story knew what and when .... especially the politician’s wife. I enjoy being intrigued that way.

Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck play their parts well in State of Play
The movie I’m talking about is called State of Play (2009). It stars Russell Crowe as a street-smart Washington D.C. reporter (Cal McCaffrey), Ben Affleck as the slimy congressman (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams as the feisty little blogger/junior political reporter (Della Frye), Helen Mirren as the totally in control ruthless editor (Cameron Lynne, of the Washington Globe),

Helen Mirren maintains queenly control over her newsroom.

and we mustn’t forget the memorable performance by Jason Bateman as a wealthy pill popping bisexual public relations executive (Dominic Foy) who has information Cal McCaffrey really wants. Finally, who is it that plays the nut-job killer in this thriller? Michael Berresse handles that role and he’s just too creepy to talk about. Though I will mention this is the biggest role he ever landed. Good job, Michael.

Rachel McAdams is marvelous as Della Frye. 

There are other players, of course, who make this film work (the police, national media with some cameos, other politicians and minor bad guys) but they were so typical there’s no need to high-light them. What is truly an interesting thing in respect of this motion picture is the truth of what it could have been had certain people had their way. Russell Crowe was not the expected lead player. That was Brad Pitt. He signed on to the script in August, 2007 but dropped out of the production one week before filming was to begin. He didn’t approve of a re-write and wanted the film delayed until after a writer’s strike was settled and a compromise script could be created. No dice, the director said, and he instead spent his time going to Australia so he could talk Russell Crowe into acting the lead. There was nearly a scheduling conflict, since Crowe was then filming Nottingham (later released as Robin Hood), but the studios managed a schedule that allowed Crowe’s participation in both films. The biggest problem for State of Play was Russell’s need for exceptionally long hair. It was cut pretty short for his part in Nottingham and that required him to spend three hours a day in Hair and Make-up trying to create new  length for his mop (which explains his funky hair in this movie).

Messy Crowe looks like every report whoever interviewed me.

The Pitt fiasco set the film’s schedule back by one week. The original actor who signed on to play the slimy politician was Edward Norton ... the delay created a scheduling conflict for him and he had to leave State of Play under amicable conditions. His agent also represented Ben Affleck and the new east-er was quickly signed to play the roll of congressman Collins.  Affleck rushed  to Washington D.C. to prepare, meeting with Nancy Pelosi and other notable politicians. He said to perfect his character he drew on the experiences of Gary Condit, Elliot Spitzer, and John Edwards (I can see that in his performance ... especially John Edwards).

For certain, State of Play would have been a much different film had Brad Pitt and Edward Norton played the leads. I don’t think I would have watched it. As a general rule, I don’t care for political thrillers unless they are from a time long, long ago. (Like, how about something de’ Medici, Hollywood?) Most modern films stress too much about the ‘message’ ... rather ... spend too much energy tilting a story to promote their message and I think we get enough of that from every other turn. This film would have media bias, parallels regarding questionable home-land security deals (Blackwater?), corporate greed, calculated political coverups, etc. I could just watch some evening news or other television dribble for that. But, I like Russell Crowe enough and have come to learn that he has a wonderful sense about scripts and story lines, so I brought this one home. I figured Ben Affleck would suck ... but he didn’t. He is completely believable as a slimy up and coming politician.

I have to say, too, that the fellows who played the other politicians were marvelous. Many times I thought they were actual sitting elites who simply stopped in to give a sense of authenticity to the film ... especially the fellow who played Rep. George Fergus.

I know that politician on the left, I KNOW I do!

Another thing I truly enjoyed about his movie is the manner in which it was filmed. As it plays, you should notice that while you are in the reporter’s world, it feels grimy, dingy, the lighting is a bit harsher and often the rains are driving hard. While you are in the congressman’s world the space feels cleaner, depth of field has deeply shifted, and the crispness of a well ironed world is amazingly strong. It’s an attitude displayed visually. To pull this off, the director of photography shot media scenes in the anamorphic format on 35mm film, while the world of politics were shot in high-definition video using digital cameras. The effect is pretty cool and very cogent.

Jason Bateman's character is about to learn the will of the press. 

As the story goes, this is a high-paced thriller that holds attention well. There are so many twists, turns, and added information that it’s important you pay attention. It starts with a random and apparent drug dealer pop-off, then leads to a seemingly unrelated capital-hill-lower-level-employee suicide. As the reporting characters piece the puzzle, we are walked through the ethical struggles of old time investigative reporting versus modern shoot-from-the-hip blogging. I did enjoy the idea that the old-school would take the time to mentor the new school and the resulting product was good and honest. Too bad it’s make believe. The part that’s not make believe, and is shown honestly in this story, is the relationship between the media and politicians. It’s grittingly harsh to hear deals made and stories tilted according to the reporters whim. We all know it happens, and I think Crowe plays that angle of the tale really well – especially when he confronts Jason Bateman’s character. It makes sense that he would ... Crowe has a bunch of experience with real press. Regarding his attraction to this role, he explains:
"I wanted to explore the ambiguity of journalism... It's a kind of a conceit that journalists live under, that they remain objective. That's never been my experience. They're all too human, all too emotionally affected. Someone could write absolute rubbish about you because their aunty's having a problem with cancer or something. It's the way they re-balance themselves. So I think examining that conceit and examining the true input of human experience in the journalism that we read, it was very interesting for me." 
** quote from “Blazers Brush with Fame” by Anika Manzoor - Silver Chips Online
Even the reporter's apartment hints to the notion that a newsman's personal life may well affect his work.  Notice the campaign sign pinned to the bulletin board in the back.

Again, Russell Crowe carried a movie well, as I expected him to. Ben Affleck for the first time surprised me and I liked that. If you want to see a good movie centered around modern times and problems ... check this one out ... it really is worth your time.