After we came out of "State of Play," we talked for hours.
"So when Robin Penn Wright said that, Russell Crowe must have realized that Ben Affleck knew all along that ..."
Movies like this used to be called mysteries, until someone decided "political thriller" sounded sexier. Just to be sure, it's set in Washington, D.C., relocated from London in the original BBC version.
Affleck plays an up-and-coming war hero congressman (think a Gulf War John Kerry) whose investigation into a private mercenary defense contractor (think Blackwater) is derailed after his staff investigator and mistress (think ... well, you've got several choices) dies under the wheels of a Washington metro train.
Russell Crowe is the old-school beat reporter covering the story for the Washington Globe. It's a lot like The Washington Post. Helen Mirren plays his tough-as-nails editor, up against her own problems with the paper's new corporate owners. Rachel McAdams is the young blogger on the staff who will have Russell's desk before too long.
If you're beginning to feel that queasy sensation you get whenever you step into a parallel universe, don't be alarmed. Watergate and "All the President's Men" may be the textbook for this genre, but its take on newspapers is fresh off today's business pages.
Never-ending "redesigns" of how the news is packaged. Corporate owners who could care less about datelines, bylines or deadlines - only the bottom line. The demise of news gathering; the rise of blogging.
The fate of news is the news. It's been a long time since newspapers were the only place to read all about it. The question now is how much longer you'll even be able to do that?
With Tony Gilroy sharing the writing credit, "State of Play" is the kind of movie that respects its audience's intelligence, selectively throwing in clues amidst the snappy dialogue to keep diligent viewers in the game, even if the final scenes leave you not quite sure about a few key points.
Crowe once again becomes his part, getting in touch with the inner slob lurking within all true newsmen. Plucky McAdams, feisty Mirren, wounded Penn Wright, shifty Affleck keep the energy up -with Jeff Daniels and Jason Bateman adding key pieces of the puzzle - all under the taut direction of "The Last King of Scotland's" Kevin Macdonald.
Even if you're not sure they quite dotted all the "i's" and crossed all the "t's," the script's guessing game is fun for all - well, maybe not for the guy in the next seat at our screening, who snored loudly through the whole thing.
But it has special resonance for people in the newspaper business. Especially during the the closing credits where we follow the story from computer screen, through the plates onto the press and finally on the trucks delivering tomorrow's edition, that pumping in our hearts and mist in our eyes may be evidence of actual ink in our veins after all.
There hasn't been a week recently when the fate of newspapers wasn't a major story. Ironically enough, the stories have been on television.
Whenever I'm drawn into the discussion, I venture that it's the paper part of newspapers that's the problem. It takes too long - not to mention the cost in trees and gasoline - to move the paper around. Especially since the news is happening right now. And you've probably got something in your pocket that you can find out about it on. Right now. Instead of having to wait until tomorrow morning.
But two experiences in the last week have shined a different light on the matter. The first was the death of author James D. Houston in Santa Cruz, Calif., last Friday. Houston is best known in the islands as the scriptwriter for Eddie Kamae's documentary films, and the co-author of Eddie's autobiography. He is best known to me as my teacher and valued friend.
The second was the chance to interview Haiku's W.S. Merwin on the phone Monday about the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry he had just received that morning. The honor of talking to the poet was heightened by the adrenalized tools of journalism it had taken to get to him.
These were both great men of letters. We journalists are more like the pests in their faces, taking notes for the rough draft. But it turns out, we're all in the same line of work.
We're all up for the puzzle, even though we know it has no ultimate solution. We're all living for those brief moments when we can string the right words together to form the story - or, rarer still, when we can lock them together to tell the truth.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org