I almost feel bad about saying this, but State of Play feels a bit too long. (This is probably my most common complaint, and I acknowledge that. Sadly, it’s also something I feel too often.) I almost feel bad because this is actually a remake of a six-hour miniseries that aired on British television in 2003. See, when condensing something by two-thirds, you still want to try to cram it full of as much of the original content as you can.
That’s the case here, but some of the things that are included had no reason to be when you remove the parts of the original series that make them work. For instance, a love affair between two of the characters doesn’t work because the only purpose in the film is to create tension between two characters. But the tension is already there, thanks to other events in the plot, and as a result, these scenes including cheating feel redundant because their purpose is already fulfilled.
The plot begins when we learn that a woman named Sonia (Maria Thayer) is dead. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) ends up admitting to being in a relationship with her, despite being married. (And before you ask, no, this isn’t the affair I was referring to earlier.) As you can expect, this causes some bad press for him. He can’t even go home to his wife (Robin Wright Penn), because there are dozens of reporters in front of his house. He heads to journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), who becomes our protagonist. He doesn’t believe that Sonia’s death was a suicide, like all of the papers are reporting, and instead decides to start investigating the real cause, while also trying to protect his friend the congressman. Apparently if your mistress commits suicide, it’s not good for your reputation. Go figure!
Cal works for a newspaper that recently got new ownership. Money is more important than the truth now, a point that is reinforced quite frequently. Cal ends up getting a partner on the case named Della (Rachel McAdams), a blogger. The two end up uncovering far more than you’d initially expect, until you realize that this is a political thriller, and that there is always more than meets the eye.
The plot ends up being a very interesting journey that takes you through a great deal of characters, a few unexpected twists, and a great deal of food for thought. For the vast majority of the time, you won’t be bored; instead, you’ll be engaged in the story. It’s only during the scenes that involve only Cal and Stephen’s wife where you’ll find yourself yawning, for reasons I’ve already mentioned, and also because the rest of the film keeps you thinking, while these scenes don’t.
The driving force of this film is Russell Crowe as the good guy journalist who doesn’t care about making money, and only seems to want to find out the truth. It’s a good thing to have a character like this, both because it’s convenient to have one in the plot, and also because it represents what the newspaper business needs more of. There’s also a fun little side plot pitting the printed press against the internet.
With all that said, the plot does suffer from being somewhat convoluted and possibly having one too many twists. I figure that it’s because they had to cut down six hours into two while still trying to cram in everything that the original miniseries had. When you have six hours, you need to include a lot of plot twists to keep the audience interested, and you have the ability to develop upon those twists. Near the end of State of Play, there are a lot of twists, and they don’t serve much as a shock, because we’re still trying to get a grasp on the last ones. It’s an over-saturation on this part, and it defeats the purpose of the twists.
The acting isn’t anything special, except for on the part of Crowe. Affleck has one scene that requires him to cry, but that’s not particularly convincing. It’s more miscasting in this case, because the role that Affleck has should have been played by an older actor. Everything about the role speaks to him being in his mid 50’s, but Affleck doesn’t look close to that age. McAdams is more of an annoyance in her role as a blogger, even if her subplot is interesting. Crowe, who seemed to have gained a lot of weight and refused to cut his hair for a year, is better, and I actually believed that he could be a reporter.
Thankfully, it’s problems don’t become readily apparent until after the film ends. The pacing is so good, and the tension so strong that you don’t really recognize the flaws while it’s playing. You don’t have time to think about them, because your brain is kept active thanks to the plot and how thrilling the film is throughout its runtime. It’s a lot of fun to watch this, both because of how interesting the plot and characters are, and also because of how much you’re given to think about, even if there is often too much going on.
State of Play is a well-made thriller with an engaging plot and a great deal of fun situations. You will continue to watch because your mind is occupied and there are few dull moments. There are a bit too many twists, and the film ends up being filled with far too much content for the two hours it’s given, but it’s still an easily watchable film that won’t fail to entertain you.