State of Play (MacDonald, 2009)

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When The Last King of Scotland garnered rave critical reviews in 2006, most praised Forrest Whitaker’s incendiary performance without calling to task the film’s shoddy pacing and historical naivete. Kevin MacDonald’s handling of Amin’s atrocities was and still is unacceptable, forcing the true terror offscreen in favor of a cliche power struggle between Black dominator and White ignoramus. In my review, I questioned how the same man behind the brutal and exhilarating Touching the Void could sugar-coat such important subject matter. With MacDonald’s latest film State of Play, a paint-by-numbers political thriller concerned with the outsourcing of National Security, it’s clear the director still isn’t interested in challenging the viewer, in this case with a careful and biting critique of Bush-era doctrine.

The best political thrillers, namely The Paralax View and All The President’s Men, pit their protagonists against faceless corporations or untouchable leaders, representing a disturbing and cold political climate that proves the common man means nothing in the face of corporate greed and power. As with the 1970’s, our current state of political affairs is ripe for examination, and State of Play begins with a chilling introduction to such a world. A quick double murder sets off a string of events involving a private security contractor and a Democratic Senator (Ben Affleck) investigating their monopoly, and the ensuing investigation by two crack shot reporters (Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams). But MacDonald seems more concerned with the individual players themselves, their personal lives, the melodrama behind their motivations, instead of the stirring political subject matter and subtext. It’s hard to buy any of these characters as professionals, seeing that they jump from one conclusion to the next without much concern for plausibility.

State of Play ends up twisting on itself in a most ludicrous fashion, disavowing the corporate angle and folding in yet another “entangled relationship” as a big reveal. MacDonald seems to think he can make up for this unforgivable ending with a credit sequence showing all the ambiguous villains getting their comeuppance in the form of newspaper headlines. It’s too little, too late, not to mention unbelievable. With this completely forgettable effort a once promising director sinks even further into the vast pit of Hollywood mediocrity.

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