Working as a reporter for The Washington Globe, reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) sets out to a routine murder victim headline, but as more facts start to manifest, a much bigger story begins to unfold of a political cover-up involving defence force distributors, corrupt senators and even more murders. One of the main ideas behind State of Play however, is the parallels that appear between Cal’s handling of a hugely expanding conspiracy story and a police investigation. “It’s not a story! It’s a case”, Cal is abruptly told by the chief detective at one point. Nevertheless, Cal is determined for the same objective - the truth. The tension unfolds subtly with a nice cat and mouse sequence at the centre making it less a droning ‘talky’ as it is a gripping thriller with constant, finely realised twists. Kevin MacDonald knows this genre well and hardly falters bringing the script to life.
Ben Affleck as Senator Stephen Collins at the centre of all the interest suits his role and played it as well as one could have expected; straight laced with few extrovert qualities. Helen Mirren’s newspaper boss shines through with little to do and representing the new age of ‘blog reporting’, Rachel McAdams’ Della Frye counters Crowe’s McAffrey surprisingly well. Russ is top flight as always, proving that his ability to inhabit a man and all that makes him tick, makes him almost second to none within his generation of performers. Robin Wright-Penn channels her real-to-life wife scorned experiences with not surprising ease, adding weight to the supporting cast alongside small but pivotal roles from Jeff Daniels and Jason Bateman.
With such written films however, genre rules always tend to appear and even though the revelatory ending did not feel worse or better for the film, I might have been more satisfied if a reasonable, but rushed extra twist at the eleventh hour wasn't thrown in. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed despite thinking it doesn’t quite match McDonald's outstandingly tense Last King of Scotland. It is easily one of the best films of 2009 so far and as a film for adults goes, it’s a damn fine entertainment.