Tag Archives: Robin Wright

State of Play (2009, Kevin Macdonald)

Who has the least personality when it comes to State of Play? Director Kevin Macdonald? He shoots the most boring Panavision-sized frame I think I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a Brett Ratner movie from start to finish, but… Macdonald’s boring. He’s not bad, he’s just not any good at all. The lack of a distinctive screenwriter is also a problem–Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray are all hacks. I mean, they’re–at times–fine hacks, but none of them is a distinctive screenwriter. They’re the kind of guys Carrie Fisher comes in to fix up and, watching State of Play, one can’t help but think she rewrote the scenes between Russell Crowe and Robin Wright.

But it’s not just the behind-the-camera talent… no one in front of the camera has any personality either. I mean, Helen Mirren does because she occasionally swears with her British accent. It’s The Queen swearing; laugh. And the audience does laugh, because it’s why she’s swearing. For comic relief. State of Play is a newspaper drama in the post-newspaper age, which means lots of derogatory blog comments. But, you know what? It doesn’t provide a useful defense of printed media. There’s nothing, after all the film’s emphasis on Crowe as the traditional reporter and sidekick Rachel McAdams as the blogger, to show McAdams’s blog couldn’t have done all the narrative’s whistle-blowing.

McAdams and Crowe are both fine. Really, they’re fine. I mean, they have all the personality of a “Tonight Show” guest and it’s like the film’s producers didn’t understand Crowe is an actor, not a screen presence, so casting him in a lousy role, one needing a presence, was a bad idea. McAdams is the same situation. She has no character and no personality. For the majority of the film, State of Play relies on Mirren for relief. Sometimes, it’s Wright. She’s been doing these crappy wife roles for ten years, so it’s no surprise she doesn’t break a sweat doing another one, even one where she’s supposedly married to Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck is, at the time of this film’s release, thirty-seven years old. Russell Crowe is forty-five. Robin Wright is forty-three. Crowe and Wright look fine together. State of Play puts Affleck in a bunch of aging make-up. He looks silly. It’s unbelievable he, Crowe and Wright went to college together. It’s unbelievable he and Crowe ever knew each other before the film’s present action. Affleck and Wright are both solid enough to make their marriage, however silly-looking thanks to Affleck’s make-up, work.

Affleck gives the film’s second best performance, after Mirren. Then, I guess, Wright. Then everyone else. They really don’t matter. Andy Garcia would have been far superior in the Crowe role. Anyone with some kind of non-character-based screen presence. Russell Crowe’s an actor, not a matinee star. State of Play needed a matinee star.

Originally, it was going to be Brad Pitt in the Crowe role and Edward Norton in the Affleck role. With them, the film would have at least made sense. It wouldn’t have been good unless Macdonald was gone and the script got a rewrite from a real writer.

Wait, I forgot about Jason Bateman. He gave the film’s best performance. He was fantastic.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, based on the television series by Paul Abbott; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Justine Wright; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Andrew Hauptman, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne), Robin Wright (Anne Collins), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (Rep. George Fergus), Michael Berresse (Robert Bingham), Harry Lennix (Det. Donald Bell), Josh Mostel (Pete), Michael Weston (Hank), Barry Shabaka Henley (Gene Stavitz) and Viola Davis (Dr. Judith Franklin).


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The Crossing Guard (1995, Sean Penn)

I can’t decide what moment of The Crossing Guard is my favorite. I have it narrowed down to two. It’s either the (louder) one at the end, where Jack Nicholson realizes where he is and how he got there, or it’s when I realized Anjelica Huston–who starts the film in a support group–has never spoken in her support group. She just goes and sits and wants to speak and never does. The Crossing Guard opens, after that scene with Huston and the juxtaposed Nicholson scene (Huston goes to support groups, Nicholson hangs out at a strip club), with this beautiful, victorious Jack Nitzsche music. It sounds like it’s a sports movie about a guy who never thought he’d play again, but then did. Nitzsche repeats this piece of music throughout the film and, each time it plays, it gets a little less victorious, a little less triumphant, until the end, when it’s about defeat.

The Crossing Guard is about compassion and submission. Penn doesn’t exactly hide these themes, but there isn’t a single scene where he lets the film get aware of itself enough to think about its themes. The Crossing Guard features a scene where Nicholson wakes up from a nightmare and calls ex-wife Huston on the phone to tell her the dream and it’s one of the best scenes in the film. This scene shouldn’t work, because relating a dream… it shouldn’t work. Penn breaks a couple major narrative rules in The Crossing Guard to great success. There isn’t a false moment in the film and only one where he holds a shot too long (but it’s featuring Robin Wright Penn and he basically casts her as an angel in the film, so he gets some leeway).

The most difficult task for the film’s viewer is connecting with the characters. It isn’t hard to connect with David Morse, whose puppy-dog eyes (which Wright Penn even comments on) and sweet, quiet demeanor visually collide with his hulking figure. His remorse and guilt are palpable. The scene where he tries to explain himself to parents Richard Bradford and Piper Laurie (who are both wonderful and share a fantastic small scene near the beginning) is devastating. It’s a hard moment in the film, where it becomes easier to objectify the film itself–Penn keeps the trailer where Nicholson threatened Morse’s life visible through the window behind Morse–than to listen to what Morse is saying. There isn’t a single explanation in The Crossing Guard. Penn demands his viewer interpret each moment and, if he or she doesn’t get it right, there’s no make-up exam… the film just moves forward.

Nicholson, for instance, is playing a tragic golem. He moves through his life fueled by alcohol, cigarettes and hatred. There are occasional peeks into the person he was before, but it’s all implied. The scenes with ex-wife Huston don’t even offer the most insight, instead it’s how the strippers flock to Nicholson. In this beautiful performance, which gives Nicholson two amazing–once in a career for most people–scenes, the most impressive thing he does is show an exceptional capacity for love. He never shows love for the strippers–Kari Wuhrer and Priscilla Barnes–but they sense it. Barnes has a great scene where she’s yelling at him, but it’s clear even when she’s angry with him. The scene where it’s clear Nicholson’s loved by the junkies, the masochists, the hookers and those who have squandered everything is another candidate for best moment in the film.

And when Nicholson’s humanity returns to him, when the automated processes start to slow, when the clay starts to crack–when it becomes clear just what Nicholson and Morse are both looking for… The Crossing Guard overwhelms.

And Penn isn’t even finished yet.

Penn’s direction–it’s very quiet at times, lots of discreet camera movement–Vilmos Zsigmond does a beautiful job–is sublime. It’s assured and measured. Just like the script’s implications, Penn’s visual moves are perfect. He even plays with the viewer’s perception of movie star Jack Nicholson as such as lackluster person. I kept wondering, as I watched it, if it was going to get better (which, given how great it is from the start, seems impossible). It does.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Sean Penn; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Jay Cassidy; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Michael D. Haller; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Freddy Gale), David Morse (John Booth), Anjelica Huston (Mary), Robin Wright (Jojo), Piper Laurie (Helen Booth), Richard Bradford (Stuart Booth), Priscilla Barnes (Verna), David Baerwald (Peter), Robbie Robertson (Roger), John Savage (Bobby) and Kari Wuhrer (Mia).


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