Step 1: First and foremost, State of Play is a love letter to the now dying print/newspaper industry. Remember that and you’ll get the gist of the film.
Step 2: There is also some All the President’s Men political intrigue to add to the mix. Such as: Washington D.C. journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), after being assigned to report on what seems to be a random drug murder, stumbles upon something bigger – like, corporate cover-up-type bigger, which may or may not also involve Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), Cal’s former college roommate.
Step 3: Refer to Step 1 – Cal does things old school, but he ends up having to share leads with his newspaper’s online blogger Della Frye (the convincing Rachel McAdams, back in film from a short hiatus), who is investigating Collins’ scandalous affair with a recently murdered member of his staff. Connections? You bet.
Step 4: Pick out the best screenwriter. Although three writers (Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray) are credited with penning State of Play, which is based on the highly acclaimed 2003 BBC miniseries of the same name, there’s really one that stands out: Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity). All the plot’s twists and turns have the clever writer’s signature stamp.
Step 5: Find a good cast. Brad Pitt was originally attached to play McAffrey – until he dropped out four days before shooting was to begin. The quick fix was to get Russell Crowe. The film is the better for it since Crowe never does anything half ass. The always good Helen Mirren as the newspaper’s editor in chief delivers as well, while Jason Batemen is a breath of fresh air as a cog in the cover-up wheel. But double check some casting choices. Edward Norton was originally set to play Collins, but the job went to Affleck. Just not the same caliber.
Step 6: Get a director who’s passionate about his subject matter. The Last King of Scotland‘s helmer and former documentary filmmaker Kevin MacDonald is a journalist at heart (he went to school to become one), so it’s clear where his devotion lies in State of Play. Make to sure to pay attention to the end credits as we see the giant printing presses putting the newspaper to bed.
Level of difficulty in watching State of Play: Easy to Moderate. Just don’t nod off in the slow parts or you might miss something.