State Of Play Review

Published 6 years ago by , Updated May 10th, 2009 at 9:39 am,

Short version: State of Play is a classy, old fashioned newspaper movie with strong performances and no CGI.

crowe in state of play State Of Play Review
Screen Rant’s Niall Browne reviews State of Play

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.

crowe and affleck State Of Play Review

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 it’s purest and I highly rate it for that.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. I’m hearing good things about this movie, including this review, but I’m starting to sour on Russell Crowe and never liked Ben Affleck (except in Good Will Hunting) but I’ll give it a look.

  2. I saw it opening weekend and liked it, very good performances all around, a couple of great ones in fact.

    But why the late review? It came out like 3 weeks ago didn’t it?

  3. Yeah, sorry on the lateness. I didn’t have a chance to see it and it opened later in the UK (that’s where Niall is from). He asked if I’d be interested in a review and I said “sure.”


  4. Oh ok didn’t check as for who the article was written by, that’s cool then.

  5. MY GF and I have a couple of free movie passes, maybe we’ll check this one out since she really doesn’t like the action/shoot-em-up films that much. Thanks for the review Niall!!

  6. I’ve actually been wanting to watch this, but so many big movies coming to the theater lately haven’t really gotten the chance to see it. I really like Russel Crowe the story is interesting and I’m willing to admit this I’m a fan of Ben Affleck. I think he gets a lot of unnecesary hate. He is a good actor that has made some bad choices or some straight of money choices. Though he has made some good choices as well. All his Kevin Smith work I have enjoyed. I thought he was decent in Dare Devil and all my problems with that film had nothing to do with him. I liked Smoking Aces (he had a small part though) , Surviving Christmas, Reindeer games, Changing lanes and he was in two of my guilty pleasures that I hate to admit Paycheck and Pearl Harbor. Not to mention outside of acting he did the amazing movie Gone Baby Gone which I thought was a brilliant film.

    Anyway want to see this.

  7. it’s a great movie. I didn’t even mind Ben Affleck that much.

  8. Nice job Niall.
    I really enjoyed the film.

  9. very enjoyable movie. Some really good performances too. Good plot with a very surprising twist in the end…

    For sure worth checking out if you haven’t.

  10. I saw this movie last night. It is an excellent movie. Superb acting on the part of Russell, Ben & Rachel. It was a spell-binding movie and the twist at the end just capped it off. Super movie.

  11. I’m glad that people watching State of Play are enjoying it.
    It’s a good old fashioned thriller that really does deserve an audience.

    Sigh…maybe on DVD.


  12. Haven’t seen it but was interested. I remember early reviews on rotten tomatoes being not so favorable but when it finally opened i think the tomato meter rose to above 80% but before it was much lower.

  13. I’m interested in seeing it. The original mini-series is arguably the best British drama series of the past decade with a cast that has gone to huge things, such as a pre-fame James McAvoy, ROME’s Polly Walker, Billy Nighy (in the Helen Mirren role) and John Simm and Philip Glenister, who both went on to fame in the original UK version of LIFE ON MARS, and the much-underrated David Morrissey in the Affleck role (which is indeed much bigger in the original). All reports are that the movie does a good job of transferring the action to the USA and keeping the spirit of the story intact.

  14. I actually thought Helen Mirren’s performance in this film was quite good (and funny) – though not as letter-perfect as her performances in the Prime Suspect series.

    I particularly loved her reading of the line: “Don’t look at me with those dewy cub reporter eyes. It’s nauseating.” The line itself is not really that funny when you read it on the page but, her voice inflection, pitch and timy make it hilarious – the theater audience was practically rolling in the aisles.

    Most of the other performances were good as well. Shockingly, even Ben Affleck wasn’t his usual wooden self (though not quite on par with the other actors.)

    What ruined this film is the cliched (and implausible) ending.

  15. I saw this earlier this week and I was thoroughly impressed…I have the BBC series in my netflix queue and am looking forward to watching that. The film is great, it’s one of those rare films that everyone that has a role, regardless of how big or small, nails it dead on. Jeff Daniels is a self important Congressman and he has maybe 5 minutes of screen time and I wanted to hit him with a brick. I give it a 4 out of 5

  16. I’ve just watched the BBC series and I have to say that it’s outstanding.

    I was correct in my thoughts on the Affleck character -there’s much more detail in the series.

    If you like the film make sure that you see the original show, or if you liked the series then you should check out the film – they compliment each other.