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Off the Record, On the QT and Very Hush-Hush

State of Play (2009)

Glen Wilson/Universal Studios

Even though a BBC miniseries serves as its basis, “State of Play” has a scrapbook worth of major American news items from the past decade such that it might as well tout itself as inspired by true events. The death of researcher Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), the first domino to fall in the film, brings to mind the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy. Standing in for Rep. Gary Condit is Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a congressman whose extramarital affair with Sonia comes to light as a result of the ensuing investigation. The film has a plethora of these familiar stories about crooked politicians, war-mongering defense contractors and journalists grappling with the quandary of everything from the “fair and balanced” slogan to gossip Web sites like the Drudge Report. When blogging colleague Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) requests some information, our hero journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) responds sarcastically: “I have to read a couple of blogs before I can form an opinion.” Zing.

As a journalist, Cal also presents an interesting case of conflict of interest. He roomed with Collins in college and banged the congressman’s wife (Robin Wright Penn). So, as any ethics professor in a journalism school would instruct, he should absolutely not be covering Collins. But Cal has unprecedented access to the congressman, so apparently his superiors, including the majestic Helen Mirren, are willing to turn a blind eye. Besides, this is Mr. Crowe at his most endearing, playing a disheveled old-timer reminiscent of Jeff Bridges’s The Dude in “The Big Lebowski.”

“State of Play” is a fairly well executed thriller that doesn’t require a great leap of faith. Maybe there’s even a point embedded somewhere in there, but it’s anybody’s guess what that would be. Perhaps journalists should be wary of politicians no matter what? Perhaps investigative reporters should just leave the investigation to the authorities and concentrate on reporting? Perhaps if newspapers had more flexible deadlines, they too could thrive like blogs? Perhaps newspapers are dying and no one cares?


Opens on April 17 in the United States and on April 24 in Britain.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, based on the BBC television series created by Paul Abbott; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Justine Wright; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Andrew Hauptman, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Robin Wright Penn (Anne Collins), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (Senator George Fergus) and Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne).


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