Journalistic ethics and the scandalous nature of politics are featured in the taut conspiracy thriller, State of Play.
Russell Crowe stars as Cal McAffrey, a Washington D.C. investigative journalist who becomes embroiled in a case involving old friend and crusading congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), who is thrown to the wolves after his assistant is killed and revealed to be his mistress.
All roads point to a large private national security firm, who are poised to engulf the United States’ varied national security and intelligence sectors. Complications arise when the friendship between Collins and McAffrey is out to the test, after his feelings are inflamed for Collin’s wife (Robin Wright Penn).
An adaptation of the popular BBC miniseries, State of Play is an engrossing investigative whodunit, which benefits from the crack trio of screenwriters Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Billy Ray (Breach), and Mathhew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs), who expertly translate the original series’ bulky material (which filled up to 6 hours of screen time), to a tightly wound 2 hour feature film.
The themes found in State of Play – notably the medias responsibility in reporting issues involving American government, and the role of national security – have been focal points in the films of all three men, and has been woven with care and intelligence alongside the films varied – yet never distracting – sub plots.
Contemplating the screenplay is Kevin Macdonald’s sturdy direction, the documentarian adding a sense of the realistic to the films tone and set pieces. Although light, action and romance is featured, yet never comes off as fanciful, and his ability to bring out the best from his cast – as evident in Forrest Whitaker’s Oscar win for 2007’s The Last King of Scotland – is also in top form, with State of Play boasting the finest acting by an ensemble thus far this year.
Crowe makes his ruff, gruff, and dedicated old school journalist all that more credible, with his beefy presence and serious, yet often cheeky, demeanour; Affleck continues to re-claim his once credible reputation, holding his weight while going toe to toe with the much more talented Crowe; Helen Mirren supplies a grand standing supporting turn as a snappy editor under pressure to deliver money making sensationalised copy in expense of credible journalism; and professional scene stealer Jason Bateman shines in a brief yet unforgettable minor role as a pill popping snitch.
As a side note, the slow death of newspaper journalism is examined in the clashes between Crowe’s newspaper man, and an in fine form Rachel McAdams’ blog queen. The nature of blogging itself is given a fair smack in the face, and credibly presented as a platform where opinion is presented as fact, and a blog fact is nothing more than a result found via a Google search.
Macdonald and co. let out a distress signal that the days of true investigative journalism is ending, and the age of information exploitation and cyber hearsay has become our new source of information. Long gone are the days of Woodward and Bernstein, where truth was not only searched but confirmed through varied sources. All that is left is a twisted version of what is considered “news”. Quite sad, really.