State of Play is about ten times better than it should be. It's yet another political thriller, it features a few actors that are hit and miss in their roles and it received little marketing. I saw maybe two trailers leading up to my screening and had never heard of it before then. But it seems the movie gods have decided to be kind to this one, making it the sleeper hit of the year thus far.
State of Play works in the same vein of All the President's Men in that it follows a couple of journalists who hope to uncover a government conspiracy. This time, the journalists are Cal and Della, played by Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams, who are investigating the mysterious circumstances around a few deaths, one of which is the mistress to Congressman Stephen Collins, played by Ben Affleck.
I could go into details, but part of the fun of State of Play is the unraveling of the mystery, so the less said, the better. Still, the story is deserving of admiration. In a genre that has been laden with incoherent stories that even the most learned people can not follow (I'm looking at you Syriana), State of Play crafts an interesting political conspiracy picture and makes it accessible to the masses. It strikes a perfect balance between smart and overbearing. It makes you think, but not so much that you spend your time scratching your head in bewilderment rather than enjoying the movie.
Adding to the impressive handling of the story are the terrific performances. Affleck, McAdams, Crowe and even Helen Mirren, in a role fit perfectly for her, conduct themselves with aplomb, diving head first into their roles and sticking with it until the very end.
But all is not well in State of Play. Perhaps the biggest knock against the film is Jason Bateman's character. Although his character is essential to the progression of the story, the way he plays him is a distraction, which is a detriment to the rest of the film. He trieds to be funny far too often, contrary to the seriousness of the plot and it didn't work. By the time he had entered the movie, I was already lost in the wonderment of mystery unfolding around me and his portrayal of the character pulled me out of the film. His performance did not work and did not hold up among the other excellent actors.
The flick also had a few awkward moments that didn't fit into the overall tone of the picture, including one where a journalist essentially becomes an action star by stealthily evading his pursuer before jumping and grabbing hold of a moving car while bullets whiz past his head, but even that was exciting, despite its ridiculousness. There were also a few liberties taken in regards to newspapers and journalism, but it mostly stayed very true to the way investigative journalists do their business, an impressive feat.
State of Play may not be the best political movie you'll ever see and it's a little rudimentary in its execution, but it's still a tightly crafted thriller that stands up to some minor scrutinies and is guaranteed to entertain.
State of Play receives 4/5