Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring:||Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Katy Mixon, Jeff Daniels, Harry Lennix, Viola Davis, See all »|
|Director:||Kevin Macdonald—“The Last King of Scotland”|
See all »
“Find the truth”
“State of Play” is the latest in a line of Iraq war movies and it is the most clever of the bunch because it disguises its subject. Although it indicts the war, returning veterans, and private companies, it does so through the mechanism of a thriller and is not marketed as an anti-war movie. However, the message is hard to miss when a blonde-haired mercenary with a crew cut is described as a “thick-necked, corn-fed, former Navy Seal,” and one of the characters says of veterans: “These soldiers are answerable to no one. They do whatever the hell they want.”
There is a great deal of irony and some suspicious coincidence that “State of Play” opened in the same week that The Department of Homeland Security disseminated a controversial report against the advice of its civil rights lawyers which suggested that:
“Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.”
The report was approved by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and released to law enforcement agencies and the media even though the department vetters said the report had, what was delicately referred to, as “problems.” Coincidence or not, we learn in “State of Play” that a murder was the “Mark of a pro or someone with a military background. Point Corp. is founded by and 100% staffed by former military.”
The identity of the murderer is revealed in the opening scenes and his affiliation with the “extremists” in the private corporation who, in the shrill language of the Napolitano report, “recruit and radicalize returning veterans,” is also revealed long before the ending. The point of “State of Play” is simple: United States Army veterans are dangerous, possibly psychotic, and cannot be trusted. They “love their country” but they kill civilians and they must be stopped at any cost.
Russell Crowe stars as an investigative reporter for the Washington Globe which is supposed to remind viewers of the Washington Post. In case viewers don’t make the connection, Crowe (grossly overweight and long-haired) looks glancingly like Bob Woodward of Deep Throat fame. Still don’t get it? The villains are staying at—ready?—the Watergate Hotel. And, in keeping with the rule of three, the hotel is mentioned three times.
Ben Affleck stars as a congressman with moral entanglements and opposite him stars Jeff Daniels (also overweight) as another morally-challenged congressman who may be complicit in dark doings. Although he is a villain, he is a villain with a Christian heart and sensitively objects to the Lord’s name being taken in vain. In case you don’t see the theme, the villains in the movie are people who self-identify as veterans and Christians, as in this quotation from Secretary Napolitano’s report which warns in dire terms:
“Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”
It is difficult to determine whether the movie or the Napolitano report is more dishonest. First of all, it is illegal immigration that conservatives are opposed to—a distinction with a very real difference. Secondly, it is alarming that a government would, to quote the Napolitano report, portray “opposition to abortion” as “rightwing extremism,” a fact which cannot be not lost on the Catholic Church and its sixty nine million members who are both red-state and blue-state voters. In any case, the movie agrees that Christians are, in the words of the Napolitano report, “hate-oriented.”
Indeed, the two are so similar in language that one could make a far more plausible movie of the collusion between elements in the government and in the media conspiring to demonize certain social groups which would be far nearer to the truth than the paranoia evinced in “State of Play.” The movie recognizes its own absurdity when the publisher dismisses McAffrey’s (Crowe) accusations: “Corporate conspiracy at the highest levels [of government]? In all my years on the job I’ve only seen it on TV.” And now some of us have seen it on the screen.
“State of Play” labors mightily to establish its liberal and multi-cultural iconography. The opening scene shows a black man on the run who is murdered by the white army veteran at the conclusion of a frantic dash. Furthermore, all the sympathetic supporting roles are staffed by either African-Americans (the guard, the mortuary assistant, the detective, and the assistant editor), women (the publisher, the co-star, the aggrieved wife), or gay men. At key moments in the film, the camera lingers on the faces of either women or African-Americans and, to be sure all the minorities have an opportunity to be nearly killed, a small group of friendly Asians are shot at by the crazed former Army veteran.
Additionally, there is a prolonged discussion which conspicuously frames a poster of an angry-looking Ronald Reagan on the right side of a wall, while on the left side of the wall is displayed a poster with (I think) an angry-looking Hugo Chavez. A further supporting graphic cameo is put in by the magic word “Tolerance,” and did I mention that the movie’s villains are all white men?
The movie’s plot gradually reveals that the mercenary corporation, Point Corp., is corrupting government legislators for lucrative contracts. The ghost of Katrina is resurrected, and ominous warnings are repeated that the objective is to “privatize” security, as in, “rightwing” militias, for instance. The movie repeats numerous times how “mercenary” corporations, like Point Corp., are “the biggest beneficiaries of Department of Defense funding, as in the Iraq War.”
The most disturbing aspect of the movie is how it models collusion between government employees and the media in order to accomplish the media’s purpose. For example, McAffrey (Crowe) blackmails a man by threatening to get him killed if he doesn’t co-operate: “The paper can slant this any way they want to. The more you talk, the more you give in, the more protected you are.” The power of the media to destroy reputations, and even lives, is made explicit and justified by the authority of the former pot-smoking, adulterous journalist who lies and breaks laws because he is a noble crusader. His lack of professional ethics is all the more amusing as the movie attempts to satirize bloggers. Yet it is the blogger who has the professional scruples that the journalist lacks.
The movie’s projection of conspiratorial and criminal guilt onto conservatives is both classic and self-refuting. At one point McAffrey says: “It’s a smear campaign. That’s what these companies do.” But it is not conservative companies who “smear” their political opponents: just ask Sarah Palin or the half million people who protested at the Tea Parties in the past week who were smeared with disgusting sexual references by Anderson Cooper (CNN), Rachel Maddow (MSNBC), Andrew Sullivan (The Atlantic), and David Shuster (MSNBC). And it is not conservative government employees who betray state secrets such as the release of top-secret files by the N.Y. Times detailing how the NSA tracked the phone calls and banking practices of Al Qaeda.
As a political thriller, “State of Play” is an average film which will probably be relegated to an early DVD release. As a dishonest mediator of the time in which we live, it is a movie whose deceptions those who come after us will be unable to recognize or be harmed by. However, let it not be said of us that we “know how to interpret the appearance of the sky” but that we “cannot interpret the signs of the times.” The movie is what literary theorists call a “false signifier.” In any event, my advice is to let this lie, lie alone.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.