State of Play is a classy piece of Hollywood filmmaking that delivers an entertaining two hours in the cinema and features enjoyable star performances from Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams.
The film which is based on the British BBC series of the same name (which first aired in 2003) unfolds in the tradition of other newspaper films such as All The Presidents Men and even His Girl Friday. State of Play is an old fashioned thriller that deals with political conspiracy, journalistic values and as a running theme – how the internet has changed the written word.
In a way State of Play’s under-performance at the box office mirrors the print journalism vs. blogging theme that is woven throughout the film’s running time. In the same way that a lot of people now look for their news online, the target audience for a State of Play will probably wait for the film to hit DVD before catching it, thus making the film unprofitable, and therefore possibly hurting the chance of other films of this ilk hitting the big screen. A shame.
We are first introduced to Crowe’s Cal McAffery, a writer for the Washington Globe following the murder of a pretty criminal and the attempted murder of a passer-by. McAffery is an old school journalist who loves ink on his hands and who has a working relationship with his police contacts that offers him ground level information on the killing. A short time later a young political researcher dies in what appears to be subway accident. She’s currently working for (and having an affair with) Affleck’s Stephen Collins – a rising political star investigating a private security firm.
Soon the Capitol Hill dogs are howling and Crowe’s McAffery is dragged into the proceedings because he’s an old friend of Collins’ from college. Infuriated by McAdam’s character (Della Frye), a political blogger whose lack of effort in news gathering (she just posts what she hears on the web without checking the facts), McAffery takes Frye under his wing to show her how to find the real story and clear the name of his old friend.”
The anchor of Kevin McDonald’s film is without a doubt Russell Crowe. The Oscar winning actor delivers a charming performance that’s filled with heart and passion. While I’ve never been a great fan of his work (great in LA Confidential and overrated and overexposed after Gladiator) I think that he’s now coming into his own. The Australian star portrays a character lacking in vanity with long greasy hair and a love of chili fries – it’s almost as if he’s portraying the tabloid version of himself. There’s even a scene in a hotel room with Jason Bateman where a telephone comes close to being thrown.
Affleck is also good – although his role could have been expanded, though I’m sure this is the casualty of the film being adapted from a six hour series. Affleck often comes under severe critical scrutiny for his performances and I feel that he acquits himself well, playing the all American political hero with skeletons in his closet. Rachel McAdams is also good as the “green” blogger who is groomed by Crowe to become “an old fashioned newspaper man.” The pair have good chemistry and in a bygone era they might have even gotten a sequel out of this film.
The major let down in the film is Helen Mirren’s turn as Crowe and McAdams’ Editor. For an acclaimed Oscar winning actress she just doesn’t show conviction, it’s as if she believes that all that’s needed to act as an editor is spout lines like “you’ve got a deadline.” Mirren appears self conscious and miscast, which is confusing considering that the younger stars are so good.
While on occasion the film’s plot hangs on coincidence and the occasional contrivance, it’s still a cut above the usual Hollywood output in the 21st Century. As an entry in the pantheon of newspaper films the thriller can justly sit alongside other films in the genre like the aforementioned All the Presidents Men, His Girl Friday as well as Mean Season, The Paper and of course Ace in The Hole.
What makes State of Play so enjoyable is that there’s a solid story and good performances. The film should feature a disclaimer saying “no CGI or snappy edits are contained in this feature.” it’s Hollywood filmmaking at its purest and I highly rate it for that.