State of Play Review

State of Play’s lead character is Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), a scruffy-looking reporter for the Washington Globe. He has shared a longtime with Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a politician fighting back against a growing military contractor.

Their relationship is key to the story, and is not necessarily complex, but deeply valuable the plot. Their characters develop naturally, with a trust and a bond between them despite the differences in their career choices. Cal sees a need to defend Stephen when needed, even pushing his political career forward through his articles.

Both use some detestable methods or perform some rather questionable actions during the course of this political thriller. Stephen had an affair with an aide on his staff, Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), setting off a firestorm of controversy, especially after she is killed in the subway.

Cal is forceful in his ways, utilizing skills that are borderline blackmail to obtain information. He is also at odds with the paper’s editor, fighting to keep his story going against corporate disapproval and lost time. McAffrey believes there is more to the murder of Baker, and begins to unravel a conspiracy involving a military contractor, yet still finds resistance in publishing his work.

McAffrey takes a young Washington Globe blogger under his wing (Rachel McAdams), and makes it his secondary mission to groom her into an investigative reporter. It is a unique contrast. Cal is the type who pushes for facts, and Della Frye (McAdams) posts on a whim. The paper itself is under increasing pressure, and is more concerned with getting the news quickly instead of accurately.

Both journalists come under fire, with Cal’s encounter with a mad gunmen in a parking garage one of the film’s highlights. The sequence ends on a somewhat questionable note, but it doesn’t diminish the thrills.

Kevin Macdonald enhances tension where needed. Before the parking garage assault, Cal visits an apartment and believes he is being followed. The film’s score ramps up as the camera follows Cal down a hallway, with the shot always including the door to the apartment in the frame. You expect the door to open and wait for it. It builds immeasurable tension, something that carries most of the third act until the final confrontation with the assassin.

Unfortunately, State of Play is difficult to discuss in detail without divulging spoilers. The final twist, one that brings the story full circle, is satisfying and holds up under scrutiny. Cal’s victory may be predictable, but how he wins is not. His questionable journalistic ethics pay off, and create an emotional send off for all characters involved.

It is satisfying because it is not a clear and free “Hollywood” ending, but one that is hard for the characters to deal with, even if the “good guy” wins. State of Play is not only entertaining, but in certain ways insightful in terms of how modern media is handled, the ever-winding levels of political corruption, and why it is necessary to continue digging to get the full story. Sales numbers are not the most important aspect of newspapers, and State of Play makes that case clear.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

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State of Play was shot on film and digitally. This disc seems consistent, and finding shots that vary from one to another is difficult. The film grain is fine enough that it is rarely apparent.

The immediate reaction to this transfer is pleasing. Colors are bright, and the image delivers a strong sense of depth. Contrast is excellent, and the black levels may cause minor crush, but are under control for most of the film.

Then you begin to notice a lack of fine detail. Faces appear flat, with inconsistent flesh tones. In certain scenes, Crowe’s stubble is clear and defined, in others the small hairs seem to blend. Long shots are handled well, and the VC-1 encode is free of artifacts. Up close however, State of Play fails to impress like the true high-end discs. The digital nature tends to be more apparent, if still hard to spot.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Despite delivering mostly dialogue, this is a surprisingly fun DTS-HD mix. The film’s score pushes some room-shaking low-end thumps into the subwoofer, as do helicopters and gunfire. City streets are nicely alive with ambience, as is the crowded newsroom. The early sequence in the subway nicely fills all channels. Rain likewise does the same.

This is a subtle mix, one that will immerse you without being forceful. It excels at the little things, while delivering the expected crisp, clear dialogue.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

A rather poor box office run translates into a meager extras selection. Deleted scenes are brief and low quality. A making-of discusses the original BBC miniseries the film was based on, and general shooting/casting/planning information. Universal’s U-Control is included, used for details on the locations and picture-in-picture snippets. BD-Live support is generic, taking you to the usual splash page.

Extras ★★☆☆☆ 

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