I must admit, State of Play did not look terribly involving after seeing the trailer. Sure, it had a fine cast all assembled in one place, but it did not look like it had anything new to offer. It is a political/murder thriller that looks like so many that have come in the past. So, what was I doing sitting in that dark theater watching it unfold on the big screen? I guess it would have to be my desire to see a movie and it being the best option for the time I had. Still, I went in hoping for something special. What I got was along the lines of the expected. It offered nothing new to the genre, but still proved to be a worthwhile trip, as the cast elevated the entire work, making it bigger and more important than it probably deserved to be.
The plot follows the standard sleight of hand style of so many thrillers that have come before. You see, it leads with a murder, a heinous act to be certain, but one that only serves as an instigator, stirring the pot, if you will. A man runs through stores, down alleys, and over fences, clearly afraid of something. The man hides under an overpass, behind some garbage cans. Slowly the young man pokes his head out to see if it is clear only to be startled by a gunshot. A mysterious man steps into the light, finishes the job and flees the scene.
With that, the stage is set and the pieces are put into motion that will connect the murder of an anonymous man under cover of night with an upstart politician who is currently investigating a Blackwater type company. The twist is that those investigating the case are not police officers or federal agents, they are reporters. All right, maybe it's not so much of a twist, but this fact does lead to the main reason I connected with this film on any level.
All right, the plot description will not be forthcoming, as telling you would pretty much defeat the purpose of actually seeing the movie. However, there is something that needs to be said about the flow of the film. I feel terribly manipulated. No, not in any meaningful or emotional way, but in a way that makes me think the screenwriters (Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, and Billy Ray) were not quite sure how to make the story flow from point a to point b. You see, whenever the movie was about to give an important piece of the puzzle, they would abruptly cut away to another scene. The problem is not so much that we did not get that piece of information, but the manner in which we are taken away from the reveal. I just feel as if I was being purposefully steered down the wrong path instead of the plot allowing me to get there based on presentation of the facts.
The performances are what truly elevate the film. Russell Crowe is charismatic in a grungy sort of way, his Cal McAffery is a reporter from the old school, insistent on getting the real story and not dealing on celebrity and gossip. Crowe hits all the right notes. Then there is Rachel McAdams as Della Frye, a young reporter of the new school, using new technology such as blogs. It is a decidedly different type of reporting and McAdams does a fine job of playing a different angle than Crowe. Let us not forget Ben Affleck as the hotshot politician, and former college roomie of Crowe's. His performance is not half bad, but he is still the weak link of the cast.
As good as the leads are, the supporting cast is peppered with all sorts of talent. Helen Mirren is the editor in chief struggling with professional integrity and a new corporate owner who is more interested in sales than truth. Mix in the fantastic Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn, and Jeff Daniels, and you have a pretty good recipe for success.
Now, I am sure you are wondering what triggered my connection to the film. Well, it is nothing particularly special and it is a minor part of the film, never getting much notice. It is the struggle between new and old reporting techniques, the way the world is changing and the manner in which information, news or otherwise, is disseminated. This is symbolized by Cal and his old school ways facing down with Della and her blogging. Being a writer, er, blogger myself, it was interesting to see the struggle play out, the use of fact checking and how sometimes the facts are played with fast and loose. Yes, small part of the movie, but watching two bring their two styles together to work the bigger picture was an interesting one. Unfortunately, I still get the feeling that online media are the unwanted children of the media world, with print media carrying a bit of a superiority complex despite their dwindling readership. Whatever the case, it was an interesting addition to the film and helped draw me in.
Bottomline. This is a good movie. Yes, it is far from perfect but it is a story that will keep you involved told with actors who know what they are doing, and not without a few surprises along the way.