Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Written by:Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Harry Lennix, Viola Davis
Released: May 28, 2009
Grade: A-

State of Play begins in rapid fashion. A guy is frantically running down crowded streets, looking over his shoulder to see if he has escaper his pursuer. The answer is no. Trying to seek refuge in an alley way on this rainy evening, he is shot dead. An unlucky passer-by also gets two bullets in the back.

Why was he killed? Who killed him? Within a minute of the film’s opening, you’ll be asking yourself these questions. They are the first in a very long list as this flick has plenty of twists and just as many turns. It’s a slick, intelligent thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end.

The man in the film who is trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together is veteran journalist, Cal McAffrey (Crowe). He’s a stalwart at the Washington Post and is looking for some inside information on the murder to publish in his article.

Cal’s focus shifts when a new story develops. A high profile congressman by the name of Stephen Collins (Affleck) has confessed to having an affair with a member of his staff. The revelation came to light after the girl committed suicide at a subway station. If you know the media well enough, you’ll realise this is juicy, front page material.

Cameron Lynne (Mirren) is head of the Washington Post and she knows that Cal has an old friendship with Collins. The paper has been struggling in recent months and this could be just the ideal story to boost sales. Lynne asks Della Frye, one of her young, ambitious columnists, to work with Cal and come up with an “exclusive”.

This is a very busy film. There are many subplots and characters. It could easily have degenerated into a jumbled mess but the screenwriters have done a great job in maintaining a clearly defined story. If the premise sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the 6-hour UK mini-series on which this film is based. It was produced by the BBC and premiered in 2003.

State Of Play is a topical flick which turns the spotlight on journalists and the way that they go about their job. Which is more important – reporting the truth or selling papers? That may sound like an easy question to answer but when you’re pressed for time and are looking to trump the other media outlets, how far is a journalist willing to bend? There’s also the ethical dilemma of whether to report key evidence to the authorities. A lot of “under the counter” negotiations go on behind the scenes.

This was always going to be a top film given the reputation of the cast and crew. I’m a big fan of English director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King Of Scotland, Touching The Void) and screenwriter Tony Gilroy (Duplicity, Michael Clayton). Great performances are turned in from the entire cast and I’d feel guilty if I singled anyone out for special attention. Their witty remarks and intelligent debates elevate this above your normal Hollywood thriller.

I’ll be honest – my reviews can be influenced depending on my mood at the time. We’re only human. That said, I’ve now seen this film twice and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it on both occasions. Whilst it’s no guarantee, I hope it provides added reassurance.