“State of Play” pretends to be a political thriller, but in reality it’s a homage to print journalism and that dying breed, the rumpled, well-connected, inside track D.C. reporter. Russel Crowe plays that character, and lives in his skin. He’s been at a paper that’s probably supposed to be the Washington Post for longer than most of his colleagues have been alive. He’s on a first-name basis with everyone in town, from the minority whip to the gal at the morgue. He owes favors and is owed just as many. He has an understanding with the chief of police, who seems to see him as sort of an auxiliary detective. They have, for the most part, the same goals, and Crowe is often more interested in getting to the bottom of a case than his own men are. Cops keep their jobs, whether or not the cases get solved. Reporters who can’t get stories, or get their stories wrong, aren’t so lucky.
Enter Rachel McAdams, employed by the paper to write a blog about the goings on of Capitol Hill. The two don’t exactly hit it off, and, to tell the truth, I don’t blame Crowe one bit for giving her the finger. She’s a rookie reporter; he’s an old hand. Some respect is in order. We’re supposed to watch them learn to work together as the movie progressed, but I never did warm to her. She’s constantly complaining about the division of duties he suggests, and whines that he’s taking the juicy pieces and leaving her the legwork. Well, duh, sweetheart. Seniority counts for something.
“State of Play” provides a somewhat painful look at journalism today; Helen Mirren plays, with great enthusiasm, the editor of the paper. Like the chief of police in a Dirty Harry movie, she’s got new management breathing down her neck. She is perpetually tired of Crowe’s antics, while always relying on him to get the story. If you’re reading the papers these days (or maybe I should say if you’re reading the blogs) you know that papers are folding left and right, being replaced by newsblogs and the miniscule overall costs of news websites. I don’t see any reason to believe that means that old school fact-gathering favor-doers like Crowe are on their way out – they just need to learn how to use a computer, for heaven’s sake.
Back to the plot. The senior aide of a squeaky clean congressman (Ben Affleck) was hit by a train. Was she pushed or did she jump? Turns out she was sleeping with the congressman. Why this would shock anyone anymore is beyond me, but there you go. Just as everyone is assuming she jumped because her heart was broken, Crowe makes a connection between her case and another murder he’s covering, and starts to see the dim outline of a conspiracy. Affleck is heading up an investigation into a defense contractor, one with 40 billion reasons to make him look bad. Are they behind this death?
It’s against a good critic’s ethics to tell you what happens in a movie, but really, the pleasure of “State of Play” comes in watching Crowe fact-gather – using various means, both over and under the table – rather than in the revelations that he unearths. The movie is a bit leaden as a thriller – the chase scenes are kind of dull, the twists are easy to predict, and the ending, especially, turns things around so that they’re about half as exciting as they were before the final twist. It’s amazing that it manages to be a pretty entertaining movie in spite of all that.
- if you’re a big fan of political thrillers
- if you work, or once worked, for a newspaper, or have a degree in journalism.
- if “All the President’s Men” is your all-time favorite movie.
- if you’re going to be disappointed by the lack of car chases and gunfights in this so-called “thriller.” Really, it’s pretty weak in the sweaty palms department.
- if you write a political blog.
- if you’re wondering what the title means (I have no idea.)