By Austin Bell
As far as subjects for thrillers go, journalists are a pretty good choice. Constant interaction with interesting people, deadlines to fulfill, occasional face-offs with death – what more could you want? The 2009 journalism thriller State of Play uses its media context well, creating an interesting murder mystery.
Politician Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) comes into the office one morning to learn that one of his staff members, Sonia Baker, has died. Journalist and friend of Collins Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) is already one step ahead of most other media outlets; he knows that Baker was Collins’ mistress. As he investigates the story, he gets another big break. Baker’s death, originally labeled a suicide, was actually a murder. With the help of newspaper intern Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), Cal follows a trail of evidence to find out the identity of the killer. Below is the film’s trailer.
State of Play succeeds in creating a realistic world for its characters. The journalism lingo sprinkled throughout the film is accurate, and the film smartly places the fictional paper in the context of the struggling contemporary newspaper industry.
In addition, the events in this realistic world are very exciting. While the film is not as action-packed as some thrillers nowadays, it creates many intense moments that are drawn out to a delightfully nerve-wracking degree. The film’s dialogue is sharp, and the plot twists in the later part of the film are genuinely surprising.
The performances, while not flawless, do draw you into the story’s world. While both Crowe and Affleck have their shining moments in the film, neither one stands out to a great degree. Helen Mirren, however, does wonderfully as the paper’s cranky editor.
The film’s technical aspects also competently create suspense. The camera creates a claustrophobic effect through the use of rather shallow focus, and the limited and unobtrusive soundtrack is effective in making tense scenes tenser (though more music probably wouldn’t have hurt).
State of Play garnered a respectable score of 87% on the movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and I agree (click to go to Rotten Tomatoes). The film is a fun political mind game, and it is worth taking your turn to play.
For a discussion of the film’s portrayal of journalism ethics, check out the video below.
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