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Review: State of Play (2009)

State of Play (2009) 

Directed by: Kevin MacDonald

Premise: A seasoned newspaper reporter (Russell Crowe) joins with a blogger (Rachel McAdams) to investigate the mysterious death of the lead staff member to an up and coming congressman (Ben Affleck). As the plot unfolds, the reporters discover links between the victim and an independent defense contractor being investigated by congress.

What Works: State of Play is an intelligent thriller with some very good casting and a well-conceived mystery that uses lots of ethical problems, integrating them into the story in ways that complicate the mystery as the characters attempt to uncover it. The film raises lots of ethical questions for creators and consumers of news as the reporters, played by Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams, constantly flirt with the line between investigative reporting and obstruction of justice. The congressman played by Ben Affleck faces an identity crisis as his inquiry into corruption is derailed when his affair with the now dead staff woman is exposed. Helen Mirren is very effective in a supporting role as the newspaper’s editor in chief who is forced to choose between journalistic integrity and running gossip pieces that will sell newspapers. Aside from the ethical wrangling, State of Play is a bit of an ode (or eulogy) for the traditional newspaper. The film casts a very affectionate gaze on the institution of the newspaper and the role it plays as the fourth estate and the final scenes in the film of newspapers being printed, bundled, and delivered is a melancholy tribute to the journalistic establishment.

What Doesn’t: The end of the film risks getting confusing as it moves very fast through a lot of material. Viewers who pay attention should be able to piece it together just fine but State of Play does not lend itself to passive viewing.

Bottom Line: State of Play is a fine thriller and a smart investigative story. The performances are terrific and the story is tight but also manages to get into some substance beyond the who-done-it of the mystery.

Episode: #237 (May 3, 2009)