The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Takes notes like a real reporter: Russell Crowe in 'State of Play'

April 15, 2009 |  1:40 pm

The Washington Post's R.B. Brenner had a second gig last year, serving as a technical consultant for "State of Play," the new film about a complicated relationship between a newspaper reporter, played by Russell Crowe, and an ambitious congressman, played by Ben Affleck. He's written a piece about his experiences on the set, which if we were to grossly oversimplify, essentially concludes that for someone who obviously can't stand journalists, having been hounded by them for years, Crowe actually rises above his own personal biases and treats the profession with considerable respect. (I guess it must be what it's like for an actor to play a serial killer -- you have to see some of the good in everybody.)

Russellcrowe I've never interviewed Crowe myself, but filmmakers who've worked with him have always said that even though he can be a handful, he's a smart, thoroughly professional guy who, once he trusts you, will walk through fire to give you a top-notch performance. On the "State of Play" film set throughout production, Brenner confirms my own impressions about Hollywood's attitude toward authenticity, noting that while the film's spare-no-expense newspaper set was fabulously true to life, when it came to veracity issues involving the film's storyline, heightened drama won out every time. As he explains about his battles with director Kevin Macdonald:

"I fought for a year and a half to avoid the impression that a reputable Washington reporter would ever consider paying for information. Yet three times in the script, reporters are asked to do just that. Twice, the director agreed to work-arounds. The third time? The good news is, Crowe's reporter never pays a dime.... The bad news is, one brief scene could lead the audience to think otherwise."

As for Crowe, he was apparently a quick study, especially when it came to noticing the ways that today's newspapers are putting most of their resources into online, sometimes at the expense of the old-school print side. As Brenner explains, Crowe shrewdly noticed how the newspaper in the film -- known as the Washington Globe -- had provided tons of snazzy new technology to its online staff while its print drudges still typed on clunky old computers. So after Crowe had an on-camera confrontation with a young Globe blogger, played by Rachel McAdams, he ad-libbed a perfect retort, saying: "I've been here 15 years, I've got a 16-year-old computer. She's been here 15 minutes and she's got enough gear to launch a [expletive] satellite." 

Spoken like a true ink-stained wretch. If the rest of the movie is half that authentic, reporters everywhere will cut Crowe a little more slack the next time he throws a phone at a hotel clerk.

Photo of Russell Crowe by Gus Ruelas / Associated Press