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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
TBC
Cast
Russell Crowe
Ben Affleck
Robyn Wright Penn
Helen Mirren
Rachel McAdams
Jason Bateman.
Directors
Kevin Macdonald.
Screenwriters
Matthew Michael Carnahan.
Running Time
TBC minutes

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State Of Play
Crowe back on form in classy conspiracy thriller


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Plot
Crime reporter Cal McCaffrey (Crowe) and crusading Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck) are old college pals, but their professions put them at loggerheads when Collins’ intern dies under mysterious circumstances.


Review
State Of Play
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Philosophical principle Ockham’s Razor states that the investigation into any phenomenon should involve as few assumptions as possible — in other words, the most likely explanation for any given mystery is the simplest one. So it’s hardly surprising that it’s a principle conveniently ignored by both conspiracy nuts and writers of political thrillers. From The Manchurian Candidate through JFK, right up to (wince) Eagle Eye, conspiracy has provided the scarlet juice that pumps through any hale, hardheaded thriller. The sense of the picture being bigger than the protagonist could ever have envisioned; the creep of encroaching paranoia as it’s realised that nobody — not even your own mother, dammit — can be trusted; the numbing, comprehension that, my God, this goes all the way to the TOP!, now where is my rug and why is my ass on the floor? It can all make for great drama.
 
But just a few swings of that pesky Razor will snap asunder even the most robustly entwined plot threads. Rarely do conspiracy theories withstand the cold glare of scrutiny (apart from anything else, the more people involved in something, the harder it is to keep it secret), and the same applies to most conspiracy thrillers (hell, William Of Ockham, who first posited the principle, could fray apart Eagle Eye with a spork).
 
Not so State Of Play. As fans of the original BBC show from which it’s been carefully adapted will know, this particular conspiracy thriller (if that is indeed the subgenre in which we should locate it) operates with one eye firmly on reality — on relationships, personal and professional — while its ears ring with the clash of agendas both between individuals and institutions. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t also have the nose to sniff out a good red herring, too. Ockham liked things simple, but even he would have agreed that things get confusing. Messy.
 
Rather like State Of Play’s chief protagonist, Cal McCaffrey, an affable, whisky-quaffing slob of a crime reporter who likes the slap of shoe-leather on the sidewalk and the dark smudge of newsprint on his fingertips, and whose desk at fictional rag The Washington Globe creaks beneath Seussian towers of books and paperwork. Realised by Russell Crowe, Cal comes complete with an unflattering, unruly mane and a full-on middle-age spread. And if you think Crowe’s rugged charms don’t quite fit a fourth-estate professional, consider his place in the context of State Of Play — a film in which the first shot of his workplace has the ugly words “A Mediacorp Company” being mounted beneath The Washington Globe’s proud logo on the office wall.
 
McCaffrey is old school, a dirty-pawed newshound to whom the D. C. ’tecs provide grudging respect. For him a good story is something to be worked over and scrubbed at until the truth shines through. As such, McCaffrey is like a frontiersman of the Old West, unwilling to accept that the frontier has gone (or at least turned digital) and it’s now the New West, where churning out copy cheaply and the concern to please shareholders rather than readers outweigh the careful craftsmanship of good, old-fashioned, dedicated reporting. As the Globe’s bolshy editor (played with acidic zest by Dame Helen Mirren) shrieks to Cal at the plot’s crux: “The real story is the sinking of this newspaper!” The paper’s new corporate owners are, she snaps, “interested in sales, not discretion!”
 
This is why Crowe — an actor at home in Westerns and historical pics — works so well in the part (indeed, he makes it hard to imagine Cal as Brad Pitt, who was originally cast), and he’s the best we’ve seen him in years. He infuses McCaffrey with a glow of confidence in his own skills, while undercutting it with palpable discomfort as he’s drawn into a situation in which his old-school professionalism places him at odds with old college buddy Stephen (Ben Affleck) — a crusading Congressman suddenly wracked by scandal — and Stephen’s wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn). Crowe is also adept at drawing his audience into the plot’s deeper, murkier waters: at one point, Cal realises, with a gut-churning shock, that he’s just rapped on the wrong door — well, the right one — and we witness the fear switch his smooth talk to stutters. It’s an impressive moment, and a valuable reminder that Crowe’s talents run far deeper than greying his hair and putting on a bit of flab.
 
However, one thing is beyond even his reach: convincing us that Stephen could ever have been an old college pal. It’s not that Affleck is inherently bad in the part; he’s just too young and fresh-faced to close the eight-year gap between him and Crowe. We’re told that they go way back, we know that they’re good friends, but we never feel it when they share the screen. All we see are two strangers going through the motions. (Which, to be fair, is arguably intentional, but it hardly aids the drama of Cal’s ultimate personal/professional conflict, even if there’s more to things than first meets the eye.) It’s common knowledge that State Of Play had a rocky genesis; after director Kevin Macdonald replaced Pitt with Crowe, it turned out that the latter’s only possible start date didn’t coincide with co-star Edward Norton’s availability. Exit Norton, enter 11th-hour replacement Affleck. The sense of rush-casting, in Affleck’s case at least, is sadly unescapable, and it’s a shame that the film’s central relationship doesn’t quite gel.
 
Thankfully, the female cast more than compensate for this flaw, and there’s a wealth of chemistry between Crowe and his pal’s wife (a sad-eyed Wright Penn), his partner-cum-professional rival, online journalist Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), and his profane boss Cameron (Mirren). The McAdams/Crowe interplay is particularly engaging, coming refreshingly free of romantic compulsion; Frye’s sex is largely irrelevant — the point is, as an online journo she’s the rival who becomes the pupil. Cal helps her realise there’s far more to journalism than sitting in the office and blogging, a point symbolically rammed home when he first gives her one of his biros and later presents her with an entire necklace of pens.
 
The script has great pedigree, merging the talents of Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions For Lambs), Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne trilogy), and does a good job of condensing the Beeb series, maintaining a buzz of urgency throughout while not shying away from a bit of enjoyable Hollywood hokiness every now and again (“We got two dead bodies, one guy in a coma and us with a lead that nobody else has got,” Cal puffs to Della at one point. Hell, yeah!). And visually, State Of Play represents yet another step-up from one-time documentarian Kevin Macdonald, whose last movie was The Last King Of Scotland. In his hands, D. C. becomes a city of shadows, a place where threat lies around every corner and dark intentions brew within every building. Although, to invoke Ockham one last time, things are never quite that complex...


Verdict
Once you get over the unlikelihood of Affleck and Crowe as buddies, State Of Play stands as a sterling thriller, benefiting from admirable convictions and an arguable return to form by Russell Crowe.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for State Of Play
Empire Star Rating

State of Play Review

A taut, well-acted political thriller, State of Play overcomes some unsubtle plot twists with an intelligent script and swift direction. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 20:00, 28 March 2012 | Report This Post


Delicious thriller with everything going for it

I am really enjoying the string of good films I have been reviewing lately. State of Play is another worthy addition that you will want to check out because of its fine acting, awesome writing and no-nonsense directing. Crowe, Mirren, McAdams and Bateman are all brilliant in their respective roles, and make State of Play a very enjoyable and superb experience. Matthew Michael Carnahan's writing is quite simply amazing, being taut and tense enough to make a delicious thriller through and through... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 11:18, 09 April 2010 | Report This Post


Tense, relevant, thriller State of Play

Good old-fashioned thriller. Lot like all the president's men. Well acted, twisty, keeps you guessing until the end. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 21:42, 04 November 2009 | Report This Post


Just ok. Watchable. Unoriginal. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Seamus. Pat. at 14:08, 14 October 2009 | Report This Post


Gab & Dad review State of Play (with DVD info)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qYt4AcaTMY&feature= channel_page ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gab and Dad at 22:53, 25 September 2009 | Report This Post


Much Like The Show With Added Differences.

State Of Play was a excellent BBC show with six parts filled with tenison and shocking outcomes. When they were planning a movie verison of it, I was a little worried of different actors playing the roles instead of the outstanding cast of the tv series. But worry no more, it's a good cast led by Russell Crowe who brings back his true acting skills. I'm still not sure if Ben Affeck had what it took to be the man thrown in the scandal, the friendship between the two is very shaky and couldn't see... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 10:41, 05 September 2009 | Report This Post


Shit

Anything with Helen Mirren, page 3 of the Saga generation has to be shit. It's a rule. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SpiderBat at 17:03, 05 July 2009 | Report This Post


Shit

Anything with Helen Mirren, page 3 of the Saga generation has to be shit. It's a rule. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SpiderBat at 17:03, 05 July 2009 | Report This Post


The curiousity for this was awakened by the good trailer and the knowledge that there was gonna be a great cast involved. It begins with some exciting but fuzzy shot scenes in the dark. The tone for the film is set. Or so it seems. The beginning and the first part of the movie is really good in wich a good story line is put apart. But The Last King Of Scotland director Kevin McDonald doesn`t know to keep up the tension and the style the whole film long. The result is that the film gets more and... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 20:42, 05 June 2009 | Report This Post


terrific

Refreshing adult/old fashioned film that relies on story/characters to produce thrills and not shoot outs. Crowe is subtle and brilliant. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 01:23, 06 May 2009 | Report This Post


The real State Of Play...

Really enjoyed this... twists, turns, tension and solid performances from all involved. Excellent!! I came out of this movie feeling very refreshed after some of the more far fetched fare that I have seen this year. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BobPolson01 at 18:29, 01 May 2009 | Report This Post


State of Play

I agree that the Empire review is pretty much spot on for this. I really enjoyed it. Having already seen the TV version (which was excellent) I kind of knew what to expect and it didn't disappoint. Crowe and Mirren are the standouts for me - both playing their roles perfectly. Difficult to take the guy from the Orange ads seriously though! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by trueborndjross at 12:44, 30 April 2009 | Report This Post


Really enjoyed this!

A really good old-fashioned thriller. I thought the last minute casting of Crowe was a good decision, well suited to the slobby journalist 'Cal'. I was also surprised by Affleck, although it is, as Empire has said, quite difficult to get used to the idea of Affleck and Crowe ever being friends (shame Norton and Pitt pulled out in that respect). Some really tense set pieces handled well by director Kevin MacDonald, and I found the issue of outsourcing of military practices to private armies... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mattdavies86 at 15:08, 29 April 2009 | Report This Post


TERRIFIC FILM

One of best thriller of 2009 ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by soulfood at 22:32, 28 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: The Scarecrowe .........

Enjoyable but certainly nothing remarkable.  I was never on the edge of my seat despite a script that contains several supposedly tense moments.  A great cast lifts this above being simply average and Ben Affleck in particular is much better in roles like this rather than in those that require him to be the leading man. ... More

Posted by Gazdance at 14:38, 28 April 2009 | Report This Post


The Scarecrowe .........

I think the Empire review here got it just about right, it was a nice easy to follow thriler, with enough intrigue to keep us entertained, all the way to the end. What more do you want from a Film...... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by n13roy at 23:17, 27 April 2009 | Report This Post


The Scarecrowe .........

I think the Empire review here got it just about right, it was a nice easy to follow thriler, with enough intrigue to keep us entertained, all the way to the end. What more do you want from a Film...... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by n13roy at 23:17, 27 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: state of play

Excellent film. Really liked it. Crowe is on great form, love MacAdams, Batemen is always good, Affleck is ok (which is good for him!!).   Best film I have seen since, oh, Bejamin Button. Thatnk God there is something good out amongst the mediocre films out at the mo     ... More

Posted by robcas20 at 19:02, 27 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: state of play

IMO it was boring. It plodded along but I will say the story was good and the acting was spot on. Was it a book? I think it would work better as a book. ... More

Posted by The REAL Bozz at 21:46, 26 April 2009 | Report This Post


state of play

This is a good film that is well worth spending a couple hours of your life watching. Enjoy !!!!!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by HERMES_67 at 15:33, 26 April 2009 | Report This Post


State of play

Award-winning 'The Last King of Scotland' director Kevin Macdonald returns to the big screen with another riveting film. Crowe once again morphs into his latest character, Cal - the dedicated investigative journo who lives to work. When he crosses media boundaries and mixes friends with sources he disappoints the women in his life: his editor (Mirren) and (McAdams). The female characters are well-written, strong and modern roles, allowing Mirren and McAdams to step away from clichéd stere... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 18:01, 25 April 2009 | Report This Post


Quality old fashioned conspiracy thriller

Excellent film. A lot more in common with the classic 70s conspiracy thrillers and compared to say Enemy of the State its a masterpiece. Only problem is the appearance of the guy from the Orange ads. As soon as you see him you think Ben Affleck going to storm off at any moment, and it does take you a few minutes to immerse yourself back in the film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by brownrigm at 11:43, 25 April 2009 | Report This Post


4 stars?

Can't believe this got 4 stars. I found it really clichéd especially the last twist or at least the way it's discovered. It also seemed pretty full of plot holes and unlikely coincidences. The acting and directing were fine and it was overall pretty slick, some of the dialogue was a bit ropey though especially Helen Mirren's. Over all pretty forgettable stuff. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dyl2019 at 19:25, 23 April 2009 | Report This Post


4 stars?

Can't believe this got 4 stars. I found it really clichéd especially the last twist or at least the way it's discovered. It also seemed pretty full of plot holes and unlikely coincidences. The acting and directing were fine and it was overall pretty slick, some of the dialogue was a bit ropey though especially Helen Mirren's. Over all pretty forgettable stuff. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dyl2019 at 19:25, 23 April 2009 | Report This Post


RE: "Crowe back in form"?!

This was a very enjoyable film. I don't know how accurate a "revisioning" it was as I never watched the original TV series but it was gripping from start to finish and I like Ben Affleck in these kind of roles, really liked 'Changing Lanes' and 'The Sum Of All Fears.' Russell Crowe even impressed me and I'm certainly no fan of that obnoxious twat! 4/5 ... More

Posted by Goodfella at 10:10, 23 April 2009 | Report This Post


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