State of Play (12A)


Nothing special to report

Will there always be a place for movies in which the sainted words "Hold the front page!" and "Stop the presses!" still ring around the newsroom? State of Play is ambiguous on the question. On the one hand it bangs the drum for the integrity and even the glamour of newspaper reporting; on the other, it sees the writing on the wall of an industry being brought to its knees by the digital revolution and the incontinent 24-hour babble of the bloggers. If the latter does prove terminal to the print business, however, screenwriters everywhere will have to come up with a better line than "Stop the internet connection!"

This fast-paced drama, directed by the British documentarist Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void), keeps the current crisis in journalism thrumming just beneath the surface of its story. The clash between old and new is intriguingly set up. Russell Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, a slobbish but driven news reporter who believes in the old-fashioned business of pounding the streets, talking to cops, working out the angles: open his veins and he'd probably bleed printer's ink. He writes for the Washington Globe, a venerable old paper that's under new corporate management – the sort that prizes sales and shares over the hard graft of diligent (and expensive) reportage. Cal's got his hands full investigating a double homicide in a D C back alley, so when a pert young miss named Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) stops by his cluttered desk to gather gossip for her blog, he sends her off with a polite snarl.

Della is pursuing a story about the apparently accidental death of a political staffer, who may or may not have been having an affair with an ambitious congressman named Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). The latter happens to be an old college friend of Cal, who is now obliged to join forces with Della, in the course of which he explains the difference between hard news reporting and quick-fix blogging, not to mention the convenience of always having a pen handy – young people nowadays!

Their truce is brokered by the Globe's editor Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), who approaches the congressman scandal in her abrasively straight-talking way: "So was he knobbing her or not?" she asks Cal. The answer will unleash what Ms. Lynne would no doubt call a shit-storm of personal and political subterfuge, at the centre of which lies a shady defence contractor named Point Corp that is privatising homeland security. And congressman Collins is the man who's been trying to rumble them.

If any of this sounds familiar, it might be because you've already seen State of Play as a six-part BBC drama back in 2003. Paul Abbott's brilliantly scripted serial managed to be both intricate and expansive in a way that's impossible for a two-hour feature. But the TV series also got it right in terms of casting. Back then it was John Simm and David Morrissey taking the roles of the journo and the politician; it was important that you could believe that these two were, or at least had been, friends.

Crowe and Affleck, though individually good, aren't persuasive as old pals; their personalities simply don't fit with one another, and there's a palpable difference in age (Crowe is the older by eight years). This in turn puts a spanner in the subplot about Cal's one-time romance with Collins's wife, Anne, played with luminous sorrow by Robin Wright Penn: in the film we're never sure how long this triangle continued, or how it was resolved. But I still recall the tragicomic anguish of those three people in Abbott's TV version.

Macdonald makes the film work, all the same, with a script cuffed into shape by three A-list writers – Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, the Bourne movies) and Billy Ray (Breach). Crowe, wide of girth, with a roadie's straggly haircut, irradiates the film with a sort of twinkling intensity, and makes a much more convincing reporter than Brad Pitt, originally slated for the role, would ever have done. His relationship with rookie blogista McAdams is also nicely worked, and refreshingly free of the romantic undertow that one might have expected in an American remake. Jason Bateman, as the sleazeball fixer played in the TV series by Marc Warren, is extremely good in a small role, bringing a whole PR subculture to life and revealing the nerviness just under his blowhard bluster. Jeff Daniels also briefly shines as a no-goodnik senator who crosses swords with Crowe during a rehearsal of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf (the timpani is expertly timed).

It's a prestige picture all the way, supercompetent, polished, watchable – but oddly unexciting. Only once does Macdonald stage a set piece worthy of the great political thrillers of the '70s (All the President's Men, The Parallax View) he plainly admires. Cal, following a lead from a Point Corp insider, visits a grim apartment block and realises, too late, that he's pitched up right at the door of the crack assassin haunting the edge of the picture. His retreat into a basement car park and the sound of Crowe's harassed breathing as the killer stalks him are compellingly done. I would have liked more of the same.

Hats off at the end credits, though, which offer a sequence to warm the heart – and maybe bring a tear to the eye – of anyone who's grown up loving newspapers and print journalism. The camera watches as Cal and Della's front-page exposé is processed: the plates are set, the presses whirr, and a blur of newspapers reproduce the killer headline in multiples. It's a celebration of truth-telling, the old-fashioned, inky-fingered way. In time to come it may look more like its epitaph.

Have your say on State of Play at We'll print the best comments in Wednesday's paper.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star