I'm a fan of a good investigative thriller, and State of Play combines that with some good old fashioned action from the newsroom with dogged reporters seeking perennial truth. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, you know you're in for one gripping ride with relentless twists and turns, as between them they are responsible for stories such as Lions for Lambs, The Kingdom, Michael Clayton, the Bourne franchise screenplays, Proof of Life, Breach and Shattered Glass. Whew! Imagine all the going points about those films all combined into one!
I thoroughly enjoyed how Conflict of Interests, as a theme is examined in the film. There's hardly a black and white answer, especially when one's moral authority gets put on the line because of the conscious decision to pursue personal or professional gain above all others. Simple things, like romantic entanglements, having to investigate and dig into the dirt of friends, code of conducts violations and the likes make all the characters here susceptible at one point or another to question their own beliefs, be they misguided just because they're pursuing something for the greater good, or to make compromises for the lesser of two evils.
And of course this will somehow lead to a corruption of the process. Do leads get released to the authorities for thorough investigations, or should the press (with press freedom firmly exercised of course) be trusted to exhaust those leads in a bid to starve off investigative leaks for that one big scoop to bring glory to themselves and their paper, in the name of truth-seeking. Or would parent companies be pressured to force the hand of their employees to come up with half-truths for fueling the need for readers to continue picking up the papers for the latest, which translates to profits?
For Russell Crowe's Cal McAffrey, his journey here is never easy, with personal friendships, moral ambiguity and professional pressure all lead to one crazy navigation through choppy waters, which includes having his life put on the line and at risk when faced with any one accidental move on the chessboard. It's never easy digging and dishing out dirt, not when folks tend to shy away from a reporter and not want to be on the record, but when you think you have conflict of interests all straightened out, they will all come back to haunt you.
Thankfully for him, help (or adversity in the first place) comes in the form of Rachel McAdams' rookie reporter and online columnist (read: Blogger) Della Frye, who gets hired by the Washington Globe just because of their recognition for an online presence, and the ability to shoot straight from the hip without reliance on the presses for production for the next day. This tussle between old school investigative journalism to check everything and follow up on leads, and the new age modern mindset of quantity over quality, spawned a superb subplot and theme, with the battle of two different paradigms, though at the superficial level, a fight between thoroughness and speed, between a veteran and a new bird, and even up to the relevance of newspapers in this day and age.
Director Kevin Macdonald weaved so much into a film just over two hours, that it deserves a second watch. While it's something like Ron Howard's The Paper or even the recent Japanese film The Climber's High with their take on the journalism profession, the story ensures that what would seem like a series of random events of an apparent suicide and two night time killings, would string together an intricate web of political intrigue as well, touching on defense contractors, outsourcing/insourcing, and that of a politician's battle against opponents when he crafts bills or heads inquiries. I thought Ben Affleck adequately did what he could with the role as a Representative, together with supporting cast such as Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, and Jason Bateman in a somewhat hilarious role of a middleman who's stuck in the middle of the whole mess.
State of Play is one intense roller coaster ride that didn't shift down from fourth gear throughout, with foot firmly on the pedal all the way to the finishing line. Great score, great ensemble cast and an engaging story all contribute to make this a film that I would consider breaking into my top 10 favourites of the year.