Conspiracy. Politics. Murder.
These are generally good ingredients for a smart, intelligent thriller, and State of Play is, happily, no exception. Based on a BBC series, State of Play stars Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey, a journalist with the Washington Globe, who works the story of a drug addict and a pizza delivery man shot by what appears to be a professional. The next morning, Sonia Baker, an aide to a US Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), falls in front of a train and is killed. The link? Collins is Cal’s old college roommate. Collins convinces Cal that Sonia’s death was no suicide, and Cal begins investigating the story, with the help of pretty, young blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). Soon, they uncover a far more sinister link between the two stories, embarking on a very cleverly-written and well paced plot the leads them through a very sinister corporate and political conspiracy.
The cast is well supported too, Jason Bateman having a wonderful turn as PR sleazebag Dominic Foy (it's incredible how much slicked hair changes Bateman's demeanour) and Jeff Daniels doing well as Senator George Fergus. Robin Wright Penn as has a good performance, giving an emotional background to both Cal and Stephen Collins.
What is perhaps captured better than anything else by director Kevin Macdonald is mood. Throughout, there is a growing feeling of danger and exposure as the story climbs further and further up the political ladder. The film wisely avoids too many action scenes; instead it takes one or two set pieces and executes them with precision. In doing so, Macdonald firmly grounds the film in the real – Cal McAffrey is a journalist, not a soldier or a superman, and there is a there are moments when we genuinely feel his life may be in danger.
In fact, State of play is handled so well and left me wanting so much more that I came home and immediately watched All The President’s Men. And having done so, there are a number of similarities to spot. Of course, there’s all of the obvious stuff, like how they’re both political thrillers set in Washington with journalist protagonists. But there are lots of other little details. For instance, both perfectly capture how claustrophobic a multi-story car park can be; and both feature scenes at the Watergate complex. None of these things are particularly overbearing, but it gives you the impression that State of Play is aware of its prestigious heritage, to which it capably lives up.
All in all, this really is an excellent film. It’s the best “intelligent” thriller Hollywood has produced in a long time, and they should be commended for it. Let’s hope that there continue to be producers intelligent enough to let films like this get made. A-.