WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Political intrigue corruption scandal sex — it’s all here in this Americanized adaptation of the much acclaimed 2003 six-hour BBC miniseries. With the story shifting from London to Washington D.C. the focus is now on a married congressman who is chairman of an important committee overseeing defense spending. He is a rising star in his party until his beautiful young assistant with whom he has been carrying on a clandestine affair is suddenly found dead. Things get complicated when his old friend Washington Globe investigative reporter Cal McAffrey is assigned to track down the story and try to uncover the identity of the killer. With cub blogger Della Frye forced on him as a partner the two journalists step into a government coverup that is much bigger than anyone could have imagined.
WHO’S IN IT?
Four days before production kicked off Brad Pitt dropped and Russell Crowe replaced him in the key reporter's role. It’s hard to imagine Pitt in this part since Russell Crowe disheveled-looking with long hair and about 30 pounds overweight owns it in his best performance since A Beautiful Mind. As his blog-savvy young partner Rachel McAdams firmly captures the essence of a determined but inexperienced young journalist in over her head. A sharp-tongued and feisty Helen Mirren is ideal as the newspaper boss more concerned with profits than integrity as she spouts out lines like “I don’t give a s--t about the rest of the story. We are going to press!” Ben Affleck also has his best screen outing in a while as the ambitious congressman Stephen Collins who gets caught with his pants down. A bevy of fine supporting turns include Robin Wright Penn as Collins’ unhappy wife; Jeff Daniels oily and smarmy as a conservative politician who knows more than he lets on and especially Jason Bateman stealing scenes as a slimy PR guy who provides some key details.
Not only does State of Play work well as a political thriller its pointed take on the failing state of newspapers and lax journalistic standards could not be more timely. Stunning widescreen cinematography and lavish sets add to the authenticity of a movie that in its best moments can be compared favorably with similar '70s classics like All the President's Men.
As the dense plot unfolds it gets a bit confusing trying to keep all the players straight particularly towards the end where you might need "State of Play for Dummies" just to follow it all.
A nail-biter beautifully staged by director Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland) where Crowe plays a cat-and-mouse game in an underground garage with a mysterious armed suspect he has just confronted.
HOW MANY WRITERS DOES IT TAKE TO SCREW IN A LIGHT BULB?
Four major ones in this case. Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) Tony Gilroy (Duplicity Michael Clayton) Billy Ray (Breach) and an uncredited Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon The Queen) are the superstar team of scribes who each took a crack at whittling down a six-hour miniseries into a two-hour flick.
Look for Bateman and the art directors responsible for the massive newspaper office to turn up on the shortlist for next year’s Academy Awards.
Lions for Lambs is all talk and very little action. However articulate and astute it is Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay comes across as little more than a transcript of a political-science class debate held three years ago on the Bush administration’s post-9/11 military successes and failures. Carnahan who also wrote The Kingdom is so intent at getting at the heart of the matter that he ignores the need to contemplate the war on terror within a narrative framework. Instead Lions for Lambs finds four of its six garrulous protagonists seated behind desks tossing verbal grenades at each other. In Washington D.C. young ambitious and silver-tongued Republican Sen. Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) lays out his plan to stay the course to skeptical TV journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep). In California wise old college professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) tries to persuade slacker Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield) to apply himself in class by telling him about two former students (Derek Luke and Michael Pena) now in the military. As Malley speaks his students are executing the first mission under Irving’s plan to destroy a revitalized Taliban in Afghanistan. But there’s a snafu—of course—and they find themselves injured and cornered by the Taliban. While the action in Afghanistan show how the war is run by a bunch of suits concerned only with advancing their careers the gunfire thankfully offers a respite from the endless chattering and allows us to step outside of Cruise and Redford’s offices. Otherwise Lions for Lambs would be end up being nothing more than a stage play caught on film for posterity. No matter how electrifying he is as the pro-war politician Cruise brings with him his trademark on-and off-screen cockiness and swagger to a role that would be better suited to an actor whom we would find trustworthy and believable. There’s no conviction to be found in what the ever-smiling Cruise says. He’s just a salesman selling the war on terror and—by extension—himself as the next U.S. president. Granted Cruise is playing a senator so every word out of his mouth must be taken with a pinch of salt. But Cruise’s smug presence makes every one of Irving’s points about the war on terror come across as simply suspect and self serving. Streep doesn’t really put up much of a fight against Cruise. As a representative of a complicit media that’s more concerned with ratings than gathering news Streep looks so school-girlishly enamored of Cruise that she seems more likely to jump him than poke holes in his theories on the war. Redford infuses Malley with the right amount of concern and cynicism though you’re never quite sure what it is that the professor sees in his wayward student. Garfield is combative for the sake of combative as Hayes and never for a moment do you believe that Malley’s words will sink in. As a study in contrasts Luke and Pena—who offered a similar study in the risks and rewards of serving the greater good in last year’s World Trade Center—show much grace under pressure when all hell breaks loose around them. “'Nowhere else have I seen such lions led by such lambs ” a German general wrote during WWI about the British soldiers sent to their slaughter by their battle-untested commanders. With this thought in mind director Robert Redford wastes no time revealing his disdain for the Washington D.C. armchair generals who harbor little regard for the troops on the front line. That point is painfully hammered home by the ill-fated mission undertaken by Luke and Pena. And unlike the hysterical Rendition and the bombastic Kingdom Lions for Lambs distinguishes itself as the most thoughtful inquisitive and provocative of all the recent films to tackle the U.S. military response to 9/11. Redford and Carnahan explore the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq from various perspectives and they even speculate how the U.S. government would justify an attack on Iran. The goal is to prod audiences to question the decisions made by those in power—especially the Commander in Chief—and to loudly protest when they make mistakes that result in many unnecessary deaths. But given that things remain the same as they were before the last presidential election Lions for Lambs feels like it’s too little too late. Most of the arguments made against the Bush administration are old even if they are still relevant and were explored with far greater scrutiny in the damning No End in Sight. Ultimately Lions for Lambs suffers from bad timing.
All of Britain is abuzz as "E-Day" approaches. The day when the pound will be converted into euros and the former will no longer be accepted as a valid form of currency. Enter two brothers: wide-eyed 7-year-old Damian (Alexander Nathan Etel) and his 9-year-old fiscally precocious and shrewd brother Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) who stumble upon a million pounds and are split on what to do with it in the short time they have. They are in agreement on one thing: They will not tell their father (James Nesbitt) about the money. Anthony just wants to spend it on material things but Damian believes the money has been delivered to them by some sort of divine osmosis a miracle from their recently deceased mother. Through the saints he claims he sees and talks to he thinks it is should be given exclusively to the homeless--or anyone deemed worthy by meeting Damian's rigorous criteria…admitting they are poor. He is later crushed to discover that the money's true origin is a heist gone awry as he crosses paths with the obligatory villain posing as a homeless man and threatening Damian to hand over the money or else pay the consequences.
There's a kind of freedom in releasing an indie film in which the biggest name belongs to the guy behind the camera. Rather than worrying about watching mega movie stars it shifts the audience's attention so they can get involved in a complex storyline. Millions is no exception to this rule. The acting is superb all the way around but undoubtedly the two biggest stars of the film are also its smallest. The interplay between two brothers--played by Etel and McGibbon in their feature film debuts--makes the viewer feel like a fly on the wall in any family's home. For such young kids they display an amazing skill at being able to capture the subtle nuances generally present in sibling relationships. Throw in the dynamic of their father--played well by Nesbitt a veteran of the British-indie circuit--and his new girlfriend (Daisy Donovan) who threatens to disrupt the family harmony and you feel like a genuine intruder on a family in crisis. But Damian's naive musings help keep the story essentially light vibrant and flowing.
Millions marks a complete about-face for director Danny Boyle. With his previous films he followed along a general path of the same moods and tones: his harrowing take on drugs and decadence in England in the groundbreaking Trainspotting; his hostage-falls-for-kidnapper caper A Life Less Ordinary; his disappointing attempt at a mind trip with The Beach; and his zombie take-off 28 Days Later. It's safe to say that a feel-good family film would not seem the logical next step. But Boyle executes Millions brilliantly showing not only his sensitive side but his flair for the whimsical. Parts of the movie even suggest hints of Tim Burton complete with sinister-sounding choral hymns in the background. With Millions Boyle establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with one of the most versatile directors around today.