State of Play: Commentary on contemporary journalism

I was able to catch an advanced screening of the new Russell Crowe flick, State of Play, over the weekend. Ben Affleck also stars as a rising Washington star who falls from grace.

All I can say is, if you’ve got any interest at all in journalism and the news business, go and see it when it hits a cinema near you.

I’m not a huge Crowe fan and certainly wouldn’t go to see State of Play because he’s in it. It’s the story that’s interesting.

The movie is a Hollywood adaptation of a BBC TV series of the same name. It’s a political thriller and the plot’s fairly standard for the genre – mysterious shooter pegs small time crook leading to bigger fish and a national security scandal. Anyone who’s seen it will instantly make comparisons with All the President’s men.

What’s very interesting about this version is that it’s been updated to the digital age and there’s lots of references to blogging and whether or not that’s “real” journalism. Jokes about YouTube and celebrity also help to keep it topical.

But for me, the drama is in Helen Mirren’s role as the publisher of the Washington Globe as she comes to terms with the declining health of her once great newspaper. That side of the story rings very true. Mirren has all the great lines: “Reporters don’t have friends, they have sources.”

This film touches on all the big ethical issues of the day, as well as the political economy of the news media today. It will become a classic in the “journalism-thriller” genre and all students of journalism should see it.

Brief Synopsis from Fandango

Oscar® winner Russell Crowe leads an all-star cast in a blistering thriller about a rising congressman and an investigative journalist embroiled in an case of seemingly unrelated, brutal murders. Crowe plays D.C. reporter Cal McCaffrey, whose street smarts lead him to untangle a mystery of murder and collusion among some of the nation’s most promising political and corporate figures in State of Play, from acclaimed director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland).

Handsome, unflappable U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is the future of his political party: an honorable appointee who serves as the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending. All eyes are upon the rising star to be his party’s contender for the upcoming presidential race. Until his research assistant/mistress is brutally murdered and buried secrets come tumbling out.

3 Responses to State of Play: Commentary on contemporary journalism

  1. nzskeptic says:

    I’m interested in seeing this because I’ve seen the original BBC mini-series on which it was based.

    I can’t imagine that they have added anything to the original, and I’m no fan of Russell Crowe, but for completeness I’ll probably watch it on DVD.

    If you haven’t seen the original Martin, I can recommend it. You can pick it up for 4GBP from, although you’ll have to pay international postage.

    EM note: FYI, the BBC series is being replayed on UK TV (Sky) on Thursdays at 10pm through May 2009

  2. Medusa says:

    Last night on ABC’s “At the Movies” a review was presented by David & Margaret re State of Play:

    “Based on the 2003 BBC television series, and co-scripted by Tony Gilroy, STATE OF PLAY is a top-flight thriller which not only racks up the suspense to an almost unbearable pitch but also keeps you guessing right to the end.

    Directed by Kevin MacDonald, whose documentary background shows in the most positive ways, the film is well written and superbly acted.

    RUSSELL CROWE adopts the daggy look to portray the journalist with a yen for his best friend’s wife, ROBIN WRIGHT PENN. RACHEL McADAMS is terrific as the young, hungry reporter who finds herself in dangerous situations; and BEN AFFLECK gives one of his best performances as the politician who has made a mess of his personal life.

    Scene stealing supporting performances come from HELEN MIRREN, as the waspish editor of the Globe, and JASON BATEMAN as a strange character importantly involved in the murky plot.

    Filled with caustic commentary on the state of America in the wash-up of the era of the Bush Administration, STATE OF PLAY represents mainstream Hollywood filmmaking at its best.”

    I’m looking forward to watching the film after a number of excellent reviews, nice change these days!

  3. Cheers Medusa, hope you enjoy it. Do let us know what you think.

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