State of Play Kevin MacDonald
Published Apr 16, 2009Early on in State of Play, a great deal of time and exposition are invested in distinguishing journalists from bloggers, citing opinion, rather than education and literacy, as the main distinction, only to throw an ironic spin on the debate later. What the film, oddly, both explores and rails against is that no matter how staunch and seemingly objective a journalist claims to be, there are influences and signifiers, both political and social, around them forming a subconscious opinion, even when they write in third-person, seemingly without emotion.
In the film, Cal McAffery (Russell Crowe) represents the journalist faction, while Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) represents the blogger sphere, both writing for The Washington Globe. While Della post blogs about Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a politician whose extramarital affairs are exposed when he publicly breaks down following the seeming suicide of his "assistant," Cal investigates the shooting of a career criminal and drug addict.
Unbeknownst to either of them their stories are connected by more than Cal's romantic affections for Stephen's wife (Robin Wright-Penn) and bring into question journalistic integrity versus the greater social good in a manner more surprising on a political level than a narrative one.
Part of the reason that the plot twists come as no surprise is that the film is quite deliberate throughout, with performances from Wright-Penn, Crowe and McAdams — not Affleck, at all — showing a depth and range far beyond that of the page. When there are discrepancies and seeming plot holes in both character reaction and trajectory, they stand out, leaving the big reveal ultimately revealed at the 20-minute mark.
Therein lays both the success and the failure of State of Play, as the film remains brisk and engaging in characterizations and performances but struggles with didactics and subtlety. As far as political thrillers go, however, it proves more interesting and current, than most, making a trip to the multiplexes more than worthwhile for fans of the genre. (Universal)