State of Play (2009)

  • Time: 132 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery
  • Director: Kevin Macdonald
  • Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels


A petty thief is gunned down in an alley and a Congressman’s assistant falls in front of a subway – two seemingly unrelated deaths. But not to wisecracking, brash newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey who spies a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered. With a turbulent past connected to the Congressman and the aid of ambitious young rookie writer Della Frye, Cal begins uprooting clues that lead him to a corporate cover-up full of insiders, informants, and assassins. But as he draws closer to the truth, the relentless journalist must decide if it’s worth risking his life and selling his soul to get the ultimate story.

One comment

  • It has all the makings of a quality Hollywood thriller.

    Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom, 2007), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, 2007) and Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, 2003), directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, 2006) and starring an A-list cast comprising of Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright, Ben Affleck, and Rachel McAdams, State of Play successfully combines a dizzying host of talents off and on screen, resulting in one of the year’s most absorbing and accomplished corporate thrillers, even though it is a remake.

    Adapted from a hit British television series of the same name, State of Play packs more content into two hours than any other film of the year. It is no easy task to translate complex and dense episodic material to the big screen, but the screenwriters have stood up to that task with aplomb.

    The film introduces the main plot through the death of a prominent woman who had an affair with Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck). Was it really a suicide? Or was it murder? Uncovering links that point to the latter, investigative journalists Cal McAffrey (Crowe) and Della Frye (McAdams) know that they have a sensational story in their hands.

    State of Play follows the pursuits of Cal and Della as they attempt to report the truth despite the political, corporate, and social quagmire they find themselves in. In a desperate bid to meet deadlines, appease a nagging boss (Mirren), and more crucially, to expose a massive conspiracy, they resort to journalistically unprofessional methods to find evidence and facts that would back up their claims.

    The film raises real questions on the ethics of journalism. Are reporters anything more than ruthless cops with a pen and paper, probing their way and recording any potential slip of the tongue?

    Crowe gives the film’s best performance with a laidback portrayal of Cal, a streetwise and experienced professional in his field who becomes acutely vulnerable when faced with life-threatening situations. Affleck shows some serious acting ability which feels queer because his acting has always been mediocre. But it is a step in the right direction. The supporting cast are mostly in their element so there is never a dull moment in the film.

    The dialogue is sharp, and is conveyed with immediacy but it never feels rushed. Because the bulk of the screenplay focuses on the story, character development is somewhat compromised. Thankfully, Macdonald is able to skilfully define each character’s persona despite the limits.

    Despite the twists and turns of the plot, there is one consistency. The establishment of the murderer early on in the film gives us someone to identify with. But who pulls the strings behind the curtain is shrouded in mystery. This is a key factor State of Play works so well. There are chilling revelations which crank up the suspense.

    Yet the most nerve-wrecking moment in the film is a conventional hide-and-seek sequence set in a dim basement car park late at night. Cal’s vulnerability as he desperately finds a way to escape the armed killer is laid bare here. There is nothing great or special about the scene, but because everything builds up to that point, it remains to be one of the most tense moments in all of contemporary thrillers.

    GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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