Get me a rewrite!
Good cast sustains twisted plot in State of PlayGood cast sustains twisted plot in State of Play
For much of its running time, State of Play is a fast-paced, entertaining political thriller about a newspaper’s efforts to cover an explosive story involving a popular young congressman and the death of an aide who was also his lover. It has a good cast led by Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey, the unkempt, chunky, old-school investigative reporter on the story, and a script (by Tony Gilmore, Matthew Carnahan and Billy Ray) that offers plenty of surprises—until it goes over the top in the final act.
Crowe carries the show, with help from Helen Mirren as his crusty editor at the Washington Globe; Rachel McAdams as the delightfully named Della Frye, the doe-eyed political blogger who partners with him on the story; Ben Affleck as Congressman Stephen Collins; and Robin Penn Wright as his wife, Anne.
The mcguffin in the tale—the twist that creates the knots—is that McAffrey and Collins were college roommates, and McAffrey once had an affair with Anne Collins. Ethically, it’s inappropriate for McAffrey to work on the story, a fact that bothers the McAdams character to no end and results in all kinds of potential problems when the Mirren character finds out about it.
The congressman is holding hearings on a Blackwater-type company with plans to privatize much of America’s domestic security system, and there’s reason to believe that the outfit is behind the aide’s death. Two other murders are connected to her killing, and eventually the movie gins up the tension by making McAffrey and Frye both potential victims.
State of Play, which was directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), tries to provide a realistic view of modern-day newspapering. The Globe has just been bought by a conglomerate that wants to tart up the offerings to attract more readers, which has Mirren’s editor in a constant fret, and there’s some snappy repartee between McAffrey and Frye over the importance of fact-gathering to the profession.
And the closing-credits footage—of a blockbuster story being burned onto plates, the presses whirring, and the papers flowing along the conveyor belt, through the bundler, and then out to the trucks to be delivered to a public hungry for the truth—would warm the cockles of any journalist’s heart.
But these nods to newspapers’ travails all seem secondary in this largely artificial confabulation that just happens to be set in a newspaper office. As the story unfolds and the plot becomes more and more twisted, merely for effect, its pretenses to seriousness begin to appear less and less sincere.
Do look, though, for a terrific turn by Jason Bateman as an amusingly self-aware fixer in a small but key role.