The most memorable element of the Russell Crowe journo-thriller State of Play may be its score, and not in a good way. Composer Alex Heffes once explained that he prefers to score a film around the dialogue, rather than through it, which seems to be a modest way of saying that he doesn't want his music to be upstaged by all that dull talk talk talk. So every time a performer closes his mouth for the length of a four-count, Heffes fills the aural space to the brim with throbbing beats and jangling strings that declare something suspenseful is going on right now! It's almost as if he set out to update the showy musical spikes so popular in mid-century film ("You'll do as I say, if you ever want to see your sweetheart alive"--dun-dun-dun), and the effect is no less displacing. Rather than bring you into the action unfolding on the screen, it pushes you out, an advertisement of theatricality.
It does, however, keep State of Play from being entirely forgettable, at least for as long as it takes to gather up one's outerwear and exit the theater. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), it is the fourth consecutive Crowe film--on the heels of 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, and Body of Lies--to feel genre-generic, the careful reassembly of cinematic components we've seen countless times before. The cast, which also includes Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, and Jason Bateman, is strong (with one notable exception), and the production has the sheen of superior craftsmanship. But the whole enterprise seems somehow empty, six characters in search of a rationale.