State of Play
Cal McAffrey wasn't around during the investigative reporting glory days of Woodward and Bernstein. He should have been.
Overweight and under-pressed, the longhaired journalist looks like he was born with a pad and pencil in one hand and a half-eaten chiliburger in the other. And he knows his stuff—whether pounding the keyboard or the rain-soaked city streets.
So when his Washington, D.C., paper's rookie blogger, Della, tries to tap him for some quick article fodder on an old college roommate, Congressman Stephen Collins, Cal bats her aside like so many empty French fry bags. But then the congressman shows up at Cal's door asking for help.
It seems Stephen's assistant, Sonia, turned up dead under a metro train. Not only that, but the pretty young woman and the congressman have been linked in a torrid affair by the national news channels. The immediate consensus is a lover's spat turned suicide. But to Cal it all starts smelling like a smear campaign—and maybe even a murder—orchestrated to defame the upwardly mobile junior politician. Could it be a huge private defense contractor called PointCorp that's pulling nefarious strings?
More digging is most definitely required, Cal thinks. And he's certain that whatever he comes up with will help his beleaguered buddy and make for a good, solid print story, too. But he's going to have to work fast. Bodies are starting to pile up.
Cal is very good at his job and works hard to always deliver a well-researched story. Knowing how the news trade can spin a story negatively, Cal uses his years of experience to help Stephen. He's even willing to curtail his own investigation if it would help his friend.
But that doesn't mean Cal's willing to bend his journalistic rules. No matter which way the growing conspiracy unfolds, or how damaging the outcome may be, Cal is determined to print the truth. And although he wears a gruff, loner exterior, he takes Della under his wing and ultimately gives the big story lead to her.
Cal regrets a brief sexual interlude with Stephen's wife, Anne, realizing that it hurt all three of them. (It happened before the film's story begins.) He repeatedly apologizes for that past choice.
While developing their story, Cal's editor, Cameron, decides to keep potentially criminal evidence under wraps for a day and not give it to the police. This leads to a murder that could have been avoided. That's not positive, but the lesson is: Each of us must wield our power carefully and exercise our responsibility consistently.
Stray comments evoke God and the devil, but not in spiritual contexts.
A former roommate of Sonia's is seen singing in a bar, wearing a revealing, low-cut top. Della obtains photos of Sonia posing in her underwear. Another friend, Dominic, is seen in pictures with his shirt off. Sonia e-mails a short video valentine of sorts to Stephen. (Visible on the phone's tiny screen is her face and a reflection of her bare back.)
Cal and Anne discuss having had sex together in the past. She tells him, "They say sex is the best way to ruin a friendship." Cal is obviously upset about the affair and apologizes to Anne and to Stephen.
Dominic brags of having both a guy and a girl as his sexual playmates. One line references oral sex.
We see a man get shot in the head. The same gunman shoots a passing bicyclist in the back. A sniper shoots several people through a hospital window. One man is killed as bullets rip into his chest. The gunman also takes a number of shots at Cal, blowing up a car's windows but missing the reporter. The man driving the vehicle, however, smashes into another car.
In a rage, Stephen throws a man to the ground and bloodies his face with his fists. A policeman is seen with a bloody gunshot wound on his arm.
Crude or Profane Language
One and a half f-words. About 15 s-words. And there are another dozen or more profanities that include "a--," "d--n" and "h---." Jesus' and God's names are misused a few times. The British crudities "sh-gged," "w-nker," "bloody" and "b-gger" pop up. And crass references are made to male body parts.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Dominic pops prescription drugs and washes them down with bottles of beer during an interview with Cal. He also smokes a cigarette. Cal pours and drinks tumblers of whiskey several times—Anne and Della join him. Diners down mixed drinks. A drunken man sings karaoke while swilling beer.
Anne talks of a time in the past when Cal was stoned. A homeless girl talks of stealing briefcases and selling them back to the owners for "drug money."
Other Negative Elements
As I made my way to my car after the screening, I started to think about 1976's All the President's Men. I was struck by the idea that State of Play feels a lot like that Dustin Hoffman/Robert Redford sizzler. No, it doesn't hiss with the same flash-fire heat of the 1970s political events that surrounded that earlier film, but it does deliver the very believable world of a newsman digging deep for truth. It's so grounded and believable, in fact, that it almost feels snatched from a different era, out of step with what we know as today's blog, twitter and 24/7 cable-news reality.
Even Cal, State of Play's dedicated, rumpled heartbeat feels like a dying breed—both as a newsman and as a cinematic icon. Here's a champion searching after truth and justice, but with no superpower or AK-47 jammed in his back pocket. In fact, he hides and runs away in this flick more that any movie hero I've seen in a long time. He's a professional scribbler with no set agenda except to do his best, help his friend (if possible) and print the whole story, not just the salacious bits.
His isn't a pristine world. Almost all the people here, from the newsroom to the back alleys to the political halls of power, are sometimes profane and routinely hobbled by their own choices. The three central characters, Cal, Stephen and Anne, struggle and suffer from their past sexual missteps, for instance. But even if some of them don't individually hold themselves accountable, the film ultimately does.
Friendship. Dedication. Integrity. This very nicely paced thriller holds up each value for all to see while it keeps a handful of twists and turns held close to its vest.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey; Ben Affleck as Congressman Stephen Collins; Rachel McAdams as Della Frye; Helen Mirren as Cameron Lynne; Robin Wright Penn as Anne Collins
Kevin Macdonald ( )
April 17, 2009
September 1, 2009