“A breaking, earthshaking story makes its way from computer screen to newsprint. The plates are set, the presses whir, sheaves of freshly printed broadsheet are collated, stacked on pallets and sent out to meet the eyes of the hungry public. Truth has been told, corruption revealed and new oxygen pumped into the civic bloodstream. All that’s missing is a paperboy yelling ‘extra!’ to crowds of commuters in raincoats and fedoras.”
I wish I could write like that – AO Scott of the New York Times described “State of Play”‘s end credits that way, and perfectly summed up the main theme of the movie. Yes, it’s political, yes it’s fast-paced, yes it’s filled to the brim with Hollywood cliches and swearing that’s supposed to make you laugh. But at the end of the day, what it’s really about is the back-story of investigative reporting.
Cal McAfferty (Russell Crowe) is the veteran reporter, the token been-there-seen-it-got-the-t-shirt cynic. He’s got a bottle of JD in his desk, never tucks his shirt in, drives a beat up old Saab and lives in what can only be described as a hole. Enter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) stage right – the immaculate young gossip blogger, opinionated to a fault and determined to nail the story at hand. Add Helen Mirren’s editor Cameron Lynne, a corrupt Senate and a Congressman pursuing the truth, and with anyone else but “The Last King of Scotland”‘s Kevin MacDonald, this movie could just slip into oblivion with others of his kind.
It’s not just that the story Cal and Della are pursuing is thrilling; or that it’s so topical and relevant; or even that murders, conspiracies, old flames, blackmail and journalism are all bed-fellows here. I dare you to watch “State of Play” and not talk about for it for hours afterwards.
The movie begins with two seemingly unrelated incidents – a thief and a pizza delivery guy are gunned down by an assassin with an aluminium briefcase, and a Congressional aide is run over by a subway train. It’s how Cal and Della (with some help from the local police forces and their sources) connect the two and drag the conspiracy all the way up Capitol Hill that glues you to your seat. The further up they go, the more they get embroiled in the story, the more they risk their lives and journalistic integrity, and the more you’re involved. The tagline should have been ‘How far would you go for the ultimate scoop?’
The Congressman in question is Stephen Collins, played by Ben Affleck. It transpires that Collins was having an affair with the murdered aide, Sonia Baker and that’s when it gets interesting – Cal and Stephen are old college roommates, and Cal has a thing for Stephen’s wife Anne.
Stephen was investigating PointCorp, a private military company and defense contractor at the start of the movie – Sonia knew everything they had on PointCorp, and Stephen is certain that’s why she was killed. PointCorp is made of retired soldiers and mercinaries, who take it upon themselves to eliminate anyone they consider a threat. Sound familiar? Much is revealed about private defense contractors and their actions, how they profit from the murders of innocent people and the sort of weight they carry on the Hill.
What I loved about this movie was not only the complexity of the plot and how true such a story is to real life – such companies exist – but also the lead characters. They’re two stereotypes of the trade, and yet there’s something believable about it all. Cal takes Della under his wing, making sure she brings her game and doesn’t lose focus. Their passion for the trade and for the story, exposing the truth at all costs, is truly admirable. Scott adds it’s a “smart, sharp inquiry into the complicated intersection of private vice and political corruption — a vivid essay on the nature of power and the ambiguous pursuit of truth.”
Thoroughly recommended – you won’t be disappointed. Oh and incidentally, 2 days later, I cut my hair to look like Della Frye.