Len Phillips reviews State of Play (rated M).
Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe)
and his boss (Helen Mirren)
We sometimes go to the movies just to see a film but finding “just a film” to see is getting harder. We bumped into some friends the other Sunday who had just come out of the cinema. They told us how good State of Play was – real escapism, a great thriller, etc. – so we went along expecting another vacuous night out.
Well, vacuous it was; but as for escapism, there is no escape from it. Maybe it’s now so ingrained no one notices. Here we are in the last days of Pompeii and I think I am just going to have to get used to it.
Who then were the villains of this film? No surprises here, except perhaps that no actual minister of any religious denomination was included among the bad guys. But aside from that one omission, everything else was there.
First, business. The film is about US Congressional hearings at which a conspiracy against the public is organised by Pointscorps, a mega-business whose stock in trade is national security (if you follow American politics, think Halliburton). It turns out that the entire national security of the United States is about to be privatised, and Pointscorps will be the one in charge.
We even get to a Congressional hearing at which the CEO is grilled about the amount of money he has personally made since the start of the second Iraqi War, an increase in his own level of wealth of $250 million dollars.
Seems a lot, but since it never occurs to me that governments are very shrewd in their handling of taxpayers’ money, why should anyone be surprised. The emphasis in worrying about the amounts spent, need I point out, does not refer to the government getting value for money on its expenditure.
What I found most interesting, is that this billion-dollar industry is specifically referred to as a “Muslim terror gold rush”. The life-and-death struggle now being waged against Islamic extremism is thus dismissed as a cynical means of extracting money for the armaments industry. The war itself has no other point.
There are then the members of Congress – obviously Republicans, although not specifically identified as such. Sneaky, devious, hypocritical and guaranteed to act against the public interest – villains each and every one, at least so far as the ones who make it before the camera.
Quite clearly, it is the Washington political elite which is selling out the public to Pointscorps. All this is being done behind closed doors, with the rest of us kept relentlessly in the dark. In the end, this private company will have its own standing army on US soil, and then what is anyone going to do?
But while there are no actual members of the cloth on screen, it should not be thought that religion is completely ignored. The number one congressional leader, about to sell out his fellow citizens to a private business and enslave the whole of the United States, reprimands someone with these words, “Never use the Lord’s name in vain to me.”
What religion do you suppose he follows? What point is that bit of dialogue intended to make?
He is also wearing an American flag on his lapel, another clear sign of decadence in showing visible signs of patriotism.
There is then the military to be added to the other forms of villainy. Pointscorps, in case you might have been concerned that civilians are involved in some private sector business, is 100 per cent staffed by former members of the armed forces. It may be a private company, but it is entirely made up of people whose values have been formed while fighting in the defence of their country.
The ultimate villain at the end of the film turns out to be an adulterous (only bad if you’re a Republican) patriotic Congressman who has also been a war hero.
And who are the good guys (and girls)? Why, they are the noble virtuous members of the journalist profession, working for a crusading Washington newspaper. It is Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe), veteran journalist, rough on the outside but kind and infinitely decent to the core.
It is he who takes on all of the evil forces and ends up victorious. In the last half reel, we head for one ending, but then, no, towards another, but then no again, until we have the true ending where all of the loose ends are tied off and virtue triumphs. Our conservative Congressman is arrested for murder and the nation is allowed to breathe free, knowing that the men (and women) of the journalistic profession are there to protect our rights.
Yet, in as idiotic an ending to a film as I have seen in some time, that same Congressman (who is subsequently found to have murdered no one) is about to expose Pointscorps. He has wanted to halt, if he could, the privatisation of national security. He should have been the hero, but if audiences are not to be confounded, this simply could not be allowed.
If one extrapolates to the next day, which occurs after the film has ended and the credits are shown, in that next day our Congressman will have been thoroughly discredited; his accusations will carry no weight, even if they are heard; and the national security apparatus of the United States will be eventually privatised in the hands of a unified military-industrial complex.
But who cares about that? For an audience, it is enough to go to the movies and boo the villains and cheer on the good guys. We laugh at the supposedly stilted and highly moralistic Victorian plays. There, as soon as someone with a top hat and waxed moustache was introduced, the audience would know who the bad guy was. Only in the last act would the villain be exposed and the leading lady allowed to happily marry the poor student with the heart of gold.
We today are as committed to our own little morality tales, as little morality as they may in fact exhibit. We have our stock villains and we go to the picture shows to see them put in their place. And that is just what Hollywood most decidedly churns out for its mass audience of fools.
– Len Phillips.