An honest-to-goodness return to old fashioned political thriller-making. Director Kevin MacDonald delights with an intricate tale of deceit and intrigue, wrapped around the real world skullduggery which underpins the ‘war’ on terror. Washington Globe hack Russell Crowe investigates a seemingly inexplicable slaying of a petty thief – he and cub reporter/scandal monger Rachel McAdams also independently discover the sudden death of Congressman Ben Affleck’s lead researcher. When they combine and seemingly lead to the film’s analogue for government-favoured mercenary contractors Blackwater, all hell breaks loose and the two reporters decide to work together to find out what really happened, and why the killings are continuing. The corruption around Blackwater is undeniable. Their unaccountability is unquestionable. But with no smoking gun, who really killed the researcher and why? MacDonald gives us a conspiracy which wouldn’t have been out of place in the 70s (and the use of Watergate is an unsubtle reminder of this influence) – using real world issues to frame a very traditional (yet still delightful) thriller. Crowe and Affleck’s friendship provides the focus for the film, and both give their best performances in years, but despite Affleck’s investigation into Blackwater, is he all that he seems? And what are Crowe’s real motives for pursuing the story? The parallels with MacDonald’s ‘The Last King of Scotland’ abound, with the likable hero relying on a friendship which proves ultimately toxic. The tragedy lies in neither character being able to see where they’re headed until it’s too late. To say the script is intelligent is an understatement.
Of course this is also a thriller which makes you think, and Crowe’s editor Helen Mirren, in a powerhouse supporting role, is the device by which we’re forced to question whether there really is any point in Crowe’s investigation. In the internet age where newspapers are dying on their feet, and corporate motives degenerate to the point of having to sell anything which will guarantee sales, Mirren makes a convincing argument that he’s wasting his time. Jason Robards in ‘All the President’s Men’ she is not, yet would Robards’ character have become what she has become in the 21st century? It’s nice that MacDonald nails his own colours to the wall in how he chooses to end the film, and he’s been proven right in its parallel with the film industry – good, honest, old fashioned storytelling, be it in print or in film really is still in demand. I’ve never seen the BBC series upon which this film is based, but I really want to now! 8.5/10