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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 04/20/2009

Hollywood Gets It Right: "State of Play's" Absent Cartoonist

By Michael Cavna

Indulge me for a moment if you will, o fellow Riffians -- time now for a meta-post:

So I've just seen "State of Play," Hollywood's new politico-journo thriller starring an engaging Russell Crowe, and I've got one cheeky beef: The film acknowledges the presence of bloggers (thankyouverymuch) and copy editors and production managers, but never -- EVER -- in the newsroom scenes is overt mention made of that age-old staple of journalism, the Political Cartoonist. It's as if the editorial cartoonist has up and vanished.

In other words: "State of Play" is as right-on and current on this point as today's headlines. It's as if the writers and director anticipated the near-weekly loss of staff cartoonists.

The film, I should note, gets many elements of journalism correct, accurately weaving in even subtle details. Full disclosure here is that my longtime friend and Post colleague R.B. Brenner was the "news media consultant" on the film. (As he noted in a piece for The Post, he pushed for journalistic authenticity in the face of "Hollywood storytelling.") As such, I vicariously lived through the pre-production and production details of the film for 18 months.

Given that it's a thriller, of course, what place is there for a political cartoonist cameo? (The last cartoonist to enjoy such a Hollywood spotlight was Robert Graysmith, a Bay Area cartoonist-turned-amateur-sleuth who wrote a book about his obsessive tracking of a serial killer. In the film "Zodiac" he was played by Jake Gyllenhaal.)

Sure, "All the President's Men" made a passing reference to a syndicate salesman peddling comics (Jason Robards's Ben Bradlee character tells the salesman to go try selling it to the Chronicle). But there's little room for such banter in "State of Play." (Too many chase scenes to get to.)

Still, now knowing the film's spirit of homage to a "dying" type of print journalism, I would have inserted one ever-so-brief exchange. A political cartoonist could approach an editor, artwork in hand, and say: "Here's my take on D.C. voting rights." And the editor, perturbed, would have shot back: "What -- you still work here?"

A nice nod to a disappearing sub-breed within the newsroom.

SIDENOTE: During the Washington shoot of "State of Play," I met and chatted briefly with Crowe co-star Rachel McAdams. Only later did I happen to come across comic strips that specifically name-checked McAdams. Once in Glenn McCoy's "The Duplex," once in Stephan Pastis's "Pearls Before Swine."

So I asked Pastis: why did you decide to reference McAdams instead of, say, Angelina Jolie or Halle Berry? His response:

"I fell in love with her on a plane. They were showing 'The Notebook.' Watched it three times on the same flight. Cried.

"Tell your readers not to share that with anyone."

By Michael Cavna  | April 20, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  The Riffs  
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