'Sunshine Cleaners' is spotless, exceptional

There are times when a small indie film hits the sweet spot and captures aspects of the human condition that are both comic, emotive and eminently recognizable. "Sunshine Cleaners" is such a film.

Made before the severe economic downturn, the movie was then prescient and now timely. Two sisters, Nora (Emily Blunt) and Rose (Amy Adams), find themselves out of work and financially desperate. Rose, who has a young son, Oscar (Jason Spevak), cleaned houses and Nora was a waitress.

They decide to open Sunshine Cleaners (a bit of an oxymoron, all things considered) wherein they clean houses after there has been a death. Suddenly they find they are walking into homes now silent, yet still filled with the detritus of the deceased. Wearing HAZMAT outfits, they scrub, sanitize and remove all those items that have been soiled or contaminated while reflecting on the finality of it all.

With each job, as they stand in the doorway looking at the evidence of a life lived and now gone, the sisters are faced with the memory of having lost their own mother at an early age. It is a loss that has shrouded their lives, inflicting an incremental sadness and grief that has never been resolved.

"Sunshine Cleaners" is layered with subplots and wonderful moments, carried in the main by two of the finest actresses working today: Blunt ("The Devil Wore Prada") and Adams ("Doubt").

Both inhabit their roles completely, stripping away every shred of glamour, looking into the camera with faces that reflect the strain and exhaustion of two women who are treading water, keep their heads barely above the Plimsol line, while trying to find their way. Their performances are exceptional as are those of the supporting cast. Alan Arkin is Joe, the quirky dad, and Steve Zahn is Mac, married, lots of kids and Rose's futile love interest.

"Sunshine Cleaning" is exceptional and is illustrative of what filmmakers can create when fine writing and superb acting are joined, no matter the budget.

State of Play

"State of Play" opens with a man, in the grip of panic, his breath coming hard, running desperately through department stores and boutiques and restaurant, knocking down evening shoppers, diners and displays. He turns into a dark alley and hides behind some steel drums. Waiting and listening, he finally emerges, looking first left then right. Suddenly he is shot twice in the head, as is a passing cyclist who is heading home.

The cops are called and Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), veteran metro reporter for the Washington Globe, shows up. For the former, it's one more urban crime scene; for McAffrey, it's one more story about random violence in Washington D.C.

But there's more to be gleaned from these homicides than either the cops or McAffrey can imagine. And so the narrative begins with these two dangling threads, soon to be joined by other threads all of which seem unrelated — sinister and ominous and yet just out of focus.

With the help of Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a new-hire political gossip blogger for the Globe, McAffrey begins to assemble all the loose ends. And it's a compelling if confusing pattern that begins to emerge, involving the investigation of an outfit named PointCorp, a private security firm, deeply embedded in Iraq (think Blackwater), and a Washington Congressman, Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), who is investigating PointCorp.

Compounding the events, Collins' mistress and lead staff researcher on PointCorp is killed while waiting to board a metro train. At first her death is thought to be an accident or a suicide; it's only later that it appears to be a murder.

"State of Play" is a solid, even exceptional thriller with a bevy of fine actors. Crowe is more than credible as a grungy newsman who has worked in the trenches of print journalism for 15 years; Helen Mirren is perfect as Anne Collings, the Globe's stylish, sharp-tongued editor who wants the story at all costs and who is ready to fire McAffrey (several times) because he's got his foot on the pedal and the brakes simultaneously.

This is fine moviemaking — a tightly wound story that fakes left, heads right, before dashing down the middle. Nice.

As an aside, be sure and stay through the final credits for these final shots amount to an elegy for the newspaper business. The days of ink on paper, delivered to newsstands and front doors are quickly vanishing. What will replace newspapers is still being worked out but suffice it to say, all the news that's fit to print will be delivered in an entirely new format. We can only hope that no matter its form, the Fourth Estate will have reporters digging for stories, verifying their sources, and informing the public about government and events.

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