State Of Play, the film from director Kevin McDonald and screenwriter Tony Gilroy, successfully incorporates the high points from the successful BBC miniseries of the same name but does something the series could not, which is the incorporation of the near-irrelevance of print media into a much-better-than-standard conspiracy thriller.
In the film, seasoned newspaper writer Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is led into a story involving assassins, military contractors, a U.S. Congressman (Ben Affleck), his wife (Robin Wright Penn), an affair, and even a few murders just for emphasis. Affleck’s Stephen Collins, a friend of McAffrey’s, is revealed to have been in an affair with his aide after she is found dead and then pronounced murdered. McAffrey helps his friend, and Collins’ wife, but is truly committed to the story, as well as any truths that might be associated along with that.
The “quest for the story” element is how the film differs from the mini-series, which was more involved in the personal relations of the key characters, and deserves a viewing separate from the film. Set in the end of the 21st century’s first decade, Crowe’s McAffrey is dedicated to the dying art of investigative journalism, which is quickly being replaced with up-to-second blogs, represented in the film by young writer Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). Overseeing, and adding to, this tension is the editor-in-chief Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), who is giving both reporters a short-leash leeway with their respective styles but is ultimately concerned with circulation, satisfying a corporate buy-out, and keeping her staff employed.
Cal and Della work – and work well – both as independent rogues as well as uneasy partners in a pseudo-traditional mentor/apprentice relationship as they deal with the story and the future of the newspaper biz. The conspiracy elements of the film are believably tense with plenty of keep-the-audience-guessing moments along with a few comedic bits from Jason Bateman, whose character has had dealings with the murdered aide. However even more interesting is how State Of Play comes across as a love letter to the dying newspaper industry with Cal passing the pen-and-paper torch off to Della’s blogs and tweets.