The political thriller State Of Play is one for the time capsule, a starry-eyed tribute to print journalism that’s being released at the moment that newspapers are sliding into oblivion. Its fetishism includes the obligatory shot across the bow of bloggers, who are summarily dismissed as poorly sourced gossipmongers, and a closing-credits sequence that follows a front page as it lumbers through the printing press. (Basically, it’s the print equivalent of that terrible late-period Soul Asylum video that waxes nostalgic over CD manufacturing.) When the big story finally breaks in State Of Play, one reporter says “people should have ink on their hands when they read it,” even though publications now routinely break news online first and in the morning paper second. Though solidly plotted and executed all around, the film, too, feels like a quaint relic from another era, aping the form of journalistic thrillers like All The President’s Men while missing much of their urgency.
Compressed and altered from a 2003 British miniseries of the same name, State Of Play stars Russell Crowe as a veteran Washington Globe investigative reporter who barely knows how to use e-mail, and hacks out stories on what looks like a 20-year-old computer. A pair of seemingly unrelated murders grabs his attention: one a petty thief gunned down in an alleyway, and the other a congressman’s head researcher thrown in front of a subway car. The congressman (Ben Affleck) is a friend of Crowe’s, and though the researcher was also Affleck’s mistress, she was making headway in untangling corruption charges linked to a Blackwater-like security operation. Rachel McAdams co-stars as a cub reporter who takes time away from blogging to learn what real journalism is all about.
Director Kevin Macdonald knows his way around the docudrama, having contributed a pair of cinematic documentaries in Touching The Void and One Day In September before ably transitioning to the fact-based feature The Last King Of Scotland. Macdonald and his cast shepherd State Of Play through a number of surprising twists and turns, but unlike with All The President’s Men, the politics of his political thriller get muddled in all the rug-pulling. By the end, it’s more about the storytellers than the story—a common mistake in the blogging age.