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State of Play - Review

State of Play

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

STATE Of Play started life as an acclaimed BBC mini-series starring John Simm and Bill Nighy. It’s now a big budget US movie featuring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. Pleasingly, the quality has been maintained.

Kevin Macdonald, who helped Forest Whitaker to Oscar-winning success with his last film, The Last King of Scotland, here gives Crowe a role in which to really sink his teeth into, and one that intelligently examines journalistic integrity and the diminishing power of the press as well as the rise of privately financed armies.

It’s a timely film in many ways, and one that certainly keeps its finger on the pulse, having had its story updated by a screenwriting team that includes Matthew Michael Carnahan (of Lions for Lambs fame) and Tony Gilroy (of the Bourne films and Michael Clayton).

Best of all, however, is the way that Macdonald competently juggles pertinent and thought-provoking issues with exciting action and plenty of attention to character. This is a film to get immersed in, which thankfully treats its audience as adults.

Veteran crime reporter Cal McCaffrey (Crowe) is a former college pal of crusading Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck), so is perfectly poised to ask questions when a beautiful intern of Collins dies in mysterious circumstances.

But his subsequent investigation uncovers a massive conspiracy involving privately financed armies, and throws into focus the diminishing power of the press. It also puts him at loggerheads not only with Collins, but also his editor (played by Helen Mirren) and an eager young online colleague (Rachel McAdams), who is desperate to prove her worth to the ailing newspaper.

State of Play exists in an ethical and moral grey zone that provides plenty to think about afterwards. It’s also a cracking investigative thriller, with conspiracy theory elements, that quite comfortably sits alongside films such as All The President’s Men and Zodiac as examples of the best films in their genre.

The only minor gripes come in the form of an ending that seems to pander to the mainstream need for hope, which undermines the nature of the twist, as well as some flights of fantasy involving journalistic reach. But in all other respects, this is engrossing viewing that’s driven by some cracking performances.

Crowe, as ever, reminds us of what a great actor he is, really getting under the skin of his McCaffrey character, while there’s strong, reliable support from the likes of Affleck (finally realising his early potential), Mirren, Jeff Daniels and Robin Wright Penn.

Macdonald, too, confirms that The Last King of Scotland was no fluke and that he’s yet another emerging British director to keep an eye on, while the keen mix of action, political intrigue and character development ensures there’s something for every member of the audience to enjoy.

State of Play is highly recommended viewing and one that capably does justice to the memory of the series that came before it.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs
UK Release Date: April 24, 2009 (Previews from April 22, 2009)