Movie Review - 'State of Play': Beltway Bandits, And A Newspaper Hero In Pursuit A seasoned D.C. reporter teams up with a novice blogger to solve the murder of a beautiful young woman — who happens to be a congressman's assistant. A demanding editor and billion-dollar stakes ratchet up the action.
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Beltway Bandits, And A Newspaper Hero In Pursuit

Over His Shoulder: Helen Mirren, playing newspaper editor Cameron Lynne, keeps close tabs on her veteran but rogue reporter, Cal McAffrey (played by Russell Crowe), as he digs into an unfolding Washington scandal. Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures hide caption

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Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures

Over His Shoulder: Helen Mirren, playing newspaper editor Cameron Lynne, keeps close tabs on her veteran but rogue reporter, Cal McAffrey (played by Russell Crowe), as he digs into an unfolding Washington scandal.

Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures

State of Play

  • Director: Kevin Macdonald
  • Genre: Drama, Thriller
  • Running time: 118 minutes

Rated PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content.

Watch Clips

'I’m Not Giving Up The Story'

'You’ve Got To Protect Yourself'

'You're My Friend'

Training Day: The paper's young blogger (Rachel McAdams) soon finds herself embroiled in the mystery. Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures hide caption

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Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures

Training Day: The paper's young blogger (Rachel McAdams) soon finds herself embroiled in the mystery.

Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures

Nothing is true and everything is permitted in State of Play, a cynical political thriller about a world gone rotten with crime, corruption and capitalism run amok. Watchable enough — if instantly forgettable — the movie gets jazzed up by its nostalgic and frequently ridiculous faith in an old-fashioned superhero.

Who can uncover the mendacity in Congress? Who shall expose the corporate malfeasance? What rare creature has the insight, the tenacity, the unquenchable thirst for justice that will save us all from the pernicious powers that be?

Enter ... Newspaper Man! Here he comes, speaking truth to power! Behold his laborious process, his noble calling, his legendary facility with the obsolete technologies of pen and paper!

Looking doughy and bored, Russell Crowe stars as Cal McAffrey, star reporter for the Washington Globe, a powerful newspaper under pressure to turn a profit — ha! — by its new owners. Lorded over by the prim, queenly editrix Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), the Globe finds its identity tested as McAffrey gets embroiled in a convoluted conspiracy that reaches, like, all the way to the top, man.

Ben Affleck co-stars as Stephen Collins, a righteous young congressman investigating the shadowy operations of military contractor PointCorp — a central-casting corporate baddie that, we come to understand, is essentially getting ready to take over the planet.

When the head researcher on Collins' investigation dies under fishy circumstances, McAffrey puts down the chili-cheese fries and starts sniffing around. He's helped by Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a plucky young Globe blogger who gets a crash course in old-school reporting from her slobby superior. She learns, in other words, to frantically run around town, following up on leads and writing things down with a pen.

State of Play definitely feels dated — to the 1970s. For all its Bush-era paranoia about military contracting, the movie is a throwback to the age of All the President's Men, and it feels particularly superfluous in light of Zodiac, David Fincher's magisterial inquiry into the soul of data processing at the dawn of the digital era.

In fact, most of the action in State of Play involves the flow of information: The movie talks and talks and talks and talks. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) from a screenplay co-written by Tony Gilroy (Duplicity), it's been condensed from a six-hour British miniseries series that was broadcast to much acclaim in 2003.

Thankfully, Macdonald ditches the frantic, ultra-au courant crosscutting of the BBC series in favor of more measured storytelling. There's just not much of a story to tell here. Rife with conflicts of interest and compromised positions, State of Play imagines itself a portrait in shades of gray, but its depiction of institutional morality is ultimately as black-and-white as an editorial cartoon.