26 April 2009 | Reel_starz
A tense thriller with top-notch acting and writing
About a month before State of Play came into theaters, I read an article in The Washington Post (I live in the D.C. area) about the realism of the news industry as portrayed in the movie. One of the Post reporters served as a consultant on the set and I must say that he seems to have done his job. Almost every aspect, from the constantly chaotic state of the newsroom to the reporter-lingo, feels authentic and true to reality. While there are occasional times when the movie's main character, the reporter Cal McCaffrey, strays from the usual ethical and professional guidelines, there are logical explanations for such instances that are given in the movie. At one point, Russell Crowe even ad-libs a line about the outdated technology he has compared to the state-of-the-art computers given to Della Fry, Rachel McAdams's gossipy blogger: "I've been here fifteen years, I've got a sixteen year old computer. She's been here fifteen minutes and she's got enough gear to launch a f***ing satellite." This line was inspired by the feud between print journalists and their online counterparts that, according to the Post reporter, exists in real-life. Because journalism is so crucial to the story of State of Play, every minute detail contributes greatly to the believability of the film as a whole and it is this attention to detail that really elevates State of Play above the average political thriller.
The cast, which includes three Oscar winners, though Ben Affleck won for screen writing, could not be more perfect. With his long, shaggy hair, bulging belly and old, trash-littered car, Russell Crowe looks appropriately scruffy and he disappears into his role, becoming one of the most convincing journalists on screen in recent years. It is impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, especially Brad Pitt, who was originally signed on for the part. As his partner on the story, Rachel McAdams delivers, giving her character a very energetic yet idealistic flavor. Della Fry is, at least in the beginning, a rather obnoxious woman but, in large part due to McAdams, she gradually becomes more likable and we learn to accept her for who she is. Helen Mirren is splendid as Cameron, McCaffery and Fry's insistent boss, and every time she appears, the screen comes alive (not that it's dead when she isn't there). Ben Affleck once again proves that he can act when given the right material. He gives his character, a promising congressman, an air of detached arrogance mixed with frustrated vulnerability. Representative Stephen Collins certainly has his principles but throughout the film, that sense of morality is largely shrouded in secrets and mystery and the audience is forced to constantly guess and re-guess his true intentions. Aside from the main actors, the supporting cast does a terrific job with a slightly comedic, almost delightfully over-the-top performance by Jason Bateman as a pretentious PR agent. Also worth noting is Viola Davis, who plays a contact of McCaffrey's in the morgue, and even though she only appears in one scene, she makes the most of that short screen-time that, in turn, makes us remember her well.
Other than the superb cast, one of the most impressive things about State of Play is the script, which was written by Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray and Matthew Michael Carnahan and based on the 2003 BBC mini-series of the same name. However, it bears Tony Gilroy's distinctive mark not only because it involves corporate conspiracies and unending twists, but the witty dialogue could have been written by almost no one else. Occasional instances of humor help lighten the otherwise rather dark mood. Also, the writing is highly intelligent and makes the audience actually think rather than simply go along with the complicated plot. This can also be contributed to the direction of Kevin MacDonald who, after winning an Oscar for his documentary One Day in September in 1999 and directing the Oscar-winning feature film The Last King of Scotland, proves that he has loads of talent and hopefully, will remain prominent in the film-making industry.
Other noteworthy aspects of the movie are the cinematography and the score, both of which help carry the tension throughout the entire two-and-a-half hour film, even during quieter scenes. However, State of Play is not quite perfect. The main, and perhaps only, flaw is the minor plot holes that, while virtually unnoticeable during the actual viewing of the movie, become more obvious upon dissecting the movie afterwards. It is impossible to discuss these errors in detail without giving anything away, but they do make the conclusion a little less satisfying.
Nonetheless, the movie is so good in all other areas that it is still easy to overlook the implausibility of the ending. From the virtually flawless cast and writing to the authenticity of its portrayal of journalists and the thought-provoking political themes, State of Play stands out among all the conventional political thrillers churned out by Hollywood in recent years. Go see it!