Review: State of Play

Plot: When a popular congressman’s aide/ mistress dies mysteriously, an intrepid reporter (Russell Crowe) – who happens to be best friends with the congressman in question (Ben Affleck), works to uncover the story behind her death.

Review: I almost loved STATE OF PLAY. It’s a nearly perfect thriller, featuring plenty of top notch performances, thrills, chills, and intrigue. Sadly, it completely falls apart during the last ten minutes, turning what had been a great film into a really frustrating one. It builds and builds to what should be a spectacular, thrilling denouement, but instead delivers a cheesy ending that seems like something off of CSI MIAMI.

Having not seen the 2003 BBC mini-series that this is based on, I can’t say whether or not it had a similarly disappointing ending- but if it did, it probably played a bit better as the miniseries was six hours long, compared to this streamlined, compressed two hour version.

Despite the ending, STATE OF PLAY is still a very worthwhile film- especially if, like me, you’re a conspiracy thriller aficionado. This movie owes a lot to classic seventies paranoia thrillers like THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, and, especially, the underrated Warren Beatty thriller THE PARALLAX VIEW (check it out!). Russell Crowe is a perfect fit in a film like this, and I thought he did a great job as the shaggy haired, slightly overweight, journalist hero. I’ve always been a huge Crowe fan, and this is the best role he’s had in a while, and the first film he’s done since CINDERELLA MAN in which he actually gets to play the lead, and isn’t overshadowed by a showier co-star.

Maybe that has something to do with the fact that here, instead of acting opposite Denzel Washington (AMERICAN GANGSTER), Christian Bale (3:10 TO YUMA), or Leonardo DiCaprio (BODY OF LIES), he’s paired up with Ben Affleck. Other than CHASING AMY, I’ve NEVER been a fan of Ben Affleck as an actor, as I’ve always found him incredibly bland and overexposed. I think Affleck is a very talented guy, but he’s much better behind the camera (having directed the masterful GONE BABY, GONE) than in front of it. While he’s actually not bad in this film, I think he’s probably about ten years too young for the role, and if they had cast someone with a bit more gravitas, the ending might have gone down a little easier.

Luckily, the rest of the cast is pitch-perfect. Rachel McAdams, who I’ve always thought was a little overrated, does a great job as Crowe’s blogger colleague. She’s very believable in her role, and holds her own opposite heavyweights like Crowe & Helen Mirren, who plays the ball busting editor & chief of their newspaper. Mirren takes over the role previously played by Bill Nighy in the mini-series, which landed him a BAFTA. Having checked out a few snippets of the series on youtube, I was surprised to see that Mirren is actually more or less doing a Bill Nighy impression throughout the film, and begs the question- why didn’t they just rehire Nighy? Still, Mirren is a perfectly acceptable substitute for Nighy, but it would have been nice if a slightly more original approach had been taken, as it really feels like his performance has been cribbed.

As good as most of the cast is in STATE OF PLAY, the best performance in the film actually doesn’t come from Crowe, McAdams or Mirren. The real MVP here is Jason Bateman of all people, who’s absolutely incredible in his small but pivotal role as a drug addled Washington D.C, fixer. Bateman is so good in the role, that if the film wasn’t coming out so early in the year, I’d say he was a lock for a best supporting actor Oscar nomination, and really speaks volumes to the fact that there’s more to Bateman than his (awesome) comedy roles. His meltdown opposite Crowe is the finest piece of acting I’ve seen since Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER. Really- it’s that good.

Tying everything together is the sure hand of Kevin Macdonald in the director’s chair, following hot on the heels of his last film, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. Macdonald keeps the film moving at a quick pace, but never resorts to ripping off Paul Greengrass, which is a trap many directors have fallen prey to recently (COUGH! Marc Forster! COUGH! QUANTUM OF SOLACE! COUGH!). Macdonald definitely has the goods, and I expect big things from him in the future.I also thought it was a nice touch that the filmmakers acknowledge the dying art of print journalism, which is increasingly being made obsolete by bloggers, such as the one played by McAdams. The end credits feature a nifty sequence showing the printing and distribution of a newspaper, which sooner or later, will sadly be a lost art.

This brings me to the problematic ending…I don’t want to give too much away, but throughout the film, we’re drawn into a carefully plotted conspiracy involving crooked politicians, and multi-billion dollar defense contracts being given to mercenary outfits clearly based on real companies like Blackwater. All this is incredibly intriguing and (most importantly) relevant, but towards the end, all of this goes out the window thanks to a stupid plot twist that makes the rest of the film almost nonsensical. It’s INFURIATING!!!

Still, STATE OF PLAY is not the first film I’ve seen lately that falls apart in the end, and considering that I loved 110 minutes out of this 127 minute film, I can’t exactly give it a bad review. Still, with a better ending, this could have been one of the best of the year, and it’s a shame that now, it’s simply going to be remembered as a decent thriller, but nothing more.

Grade: 7/10

Review: State of Play




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.