Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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State of Play

Film #391


A team of investigative reporters work alongside a police detective to try to solve the murder of a congressman’s mistress.

Year 2, Film #26

THE REVIEW: I decided to cut my documentary chain short (at just three, it’s much less than my 14-day chain last year) and move back into fiction, beginning with State of Play (the 2009 film, not the original TV miniseries). Starring both Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, State of Play has been on my list to watch for some time, and I must say, the film is as good as I remember the trailer looking when it was released over four years ago. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (who directed Life in a Day—see, I tied it in to documentaries), this is a thriller that feels very familiar while still providing twists all along the path to discovering the truth behind the story.

Familiarity is both a blessing and a curse in this case for reasons you can probably guess. Having the characters and story feel like they’ve already been established before you start the film let’s you dive into more intricate and complex aspects sooner, but that also means there’s a bit of déjà vu. Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the seasoned veteran who takes the lead on the story of murder, sex, and conspiracy (accurate, but perhaps a bit hyperbolic), Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) is the new up-and-coming reporter who wants to make a name for herself, and Congressman Collins (Ben Affleck) who is shrouded in mysterious doings. The characters aren’t solely cookie-cutter templates; there’s still plenty of unique traits scattered throughout. McAffrey, for example was college roommate with Rep. Collins which leads to some conflicts of interest down the road. Also going off McAffrey is the best line from the film, and a phrase that I’ll always substitute in for the real word, “Irish wine”.

Story-wise the same thing applies. We’ve often seen murder films, or tales of political intrigue where something or someone needs to be covered up to prevent major blowback. State of Play is special though because while it has a central idea that is familiar, every detail is new and every twist keeps you guessing until the very end. I did find myself asking why this was a reporter’s investigation instead of a police investigation (the police were asking the same question in the film too) but the added benefit to the plot revolving around a bunch of newspaper people is that you get to see the inner-workings of a place you rarely see. Just like The Newsroom does for television news and Netflix’s new House of Cards partially focused on, State of Play is as much about the work that goes into reporting breaking news as it is about the news itself. For someone like myself that loves to get inside looks and see a depiction of a real life operation, that was just as exciting as the thrilling mystery surrounding everything.

State of Play works on a few different levels and will appeal to many different people. For the action-loving crowd it has chases and shoot-outs that aren’t the highlight, but are frequent enough to give it some action credentials. Documentary fans, or fans of how things work, will enjoy a great look at newspaper reporting—it probably dramatizes it more than it really is, but I found it realistic enough. And for mystery and thriller fans, State of Play will be right up your wheelhouse. There’s an air of repeated characters or plot points which means some scenes may not be as exciting as the rest, but the overall film is an entertaining journey that will take you to places you haven’t been before.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5