Crowe embodies the patience that only veteran journalists can develop after years of waiting for leads and sources.
Walking into a screening of a film like State of Play is always a roll of the proverbial dice. The film has every element working for it, which usually means it is doomed to be formulaic and/or too watered down to matter. State of Play has all the makings of a terrific movie: a cast of fantastic actors (Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman), an Academy-Award winning director (Kevin MacDonald) and a dream team trio of screenwriters (Matthew Michael Carnahan who wrote The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs; Tony Gilroy who wrote and directed Michael Clayton and Duplicity; and Billy Ray who wrote Suspect Zero and Breach).
If history has taught us anything it is that any movie with all these ingredients usually spells disaster. State of Play, however, sets a precedent because it manages to be a thrilling and wildly entertaining film while also being intelligent and thought provoking.
The film is a commentary on both shady political practices and the state of journalism today. The old-school, Woodward and Bernstein-style journalist is personified in Cal McAffrey (Crowe), who begins investigating the connections between a homicide and a supposed suicide that turn out to be linked to his old friend, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). Collins is the lead opposition in the proceedings regarding the privatization of national security when it is discovered that the supposed suicide was Collins’ aide with, whom he was having an affair.
The new generation of "journalists" (and I am using that term very loosely)—those who churn out nine or ten articles a day and are more likely to be blogging than researching—is represented by Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), who is more turned on by the scandalous details of the affair than the facts of the story. Cal and Della initially clash, both in their styles and personality, but are forced together as the two stories become inextricably linked.
Crowe embodies the patience that only veteran journalists can develop after years of waiting for leads and sources, many of which turn out to be worthless. He doesn’t care about deadlines and going to press (much to the chagrin of his stressed editor, Cameron, played by the fantastic Mirren); he cares about connecting the pieces and figuring out the story no matter how long it takes. McAdams deftly keeps pace with Crowe throughout as she evolves from an impulsive blogger to a reporter who actually takes the time to think. McAdams is more impressive with every role she takes on, and in State of Play we can actually see her leave behind The Notebook and Mean Girls and develop into a mature and confident actor.
The only weak link in the cast is Affleck, as the Congressman who is on a mission to prevent privately owned mercenaries from being sent into war-torn countries instead of enlisted soldiers. When on screen by himself, Affleck is sufficient in the role since he has the look and demeanor of a United States congressman. Unfortunately for him and the audience, a majority of his scenes are with Crowe, who dances circles around him not by being loud or drawing attention to himself, but by becoming his character from head to toe while Affleck is merely play-acting. Imagine prime Muhammad Ali in the ring with the world champion of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.
State of Play is the first real thought-provoking film of the year. After you see it, go home and turn on any cable news station or news website and look to see whether any investigative journalism is being used in the style of Crowe’s McAffrey or if they are merely streaming talking points which are repeated ad nauseam by everyone else. Should we be more concerned with the headlines that are being beaten over our heads by every outlet, or should we be concerned with what is not being covered at all? | Matthew F. Newlin