‘State of play’ makes headlines on big screen

Tom Andrew and Tom Andrew

Is it more important to write a story that will help a friend, or more important to tell the story honestly and without bias?

This is a question that many journalist has faced before, and one that Cal MaAffrey, played by a heavily disheveled Russell Crowe, has to face in the film “State Of Play,” now playing in theaters.

Cal works for the Washington Times, and has for many years. He is one of their top journalists, but in this day and age papers aren’t selling like they used to and attention-getting stories seem to be the only thing that will get a paper sold.

Cal’s boss, played by “The Queen” actress Helen Mirren, is intent on getting headline stories out before anyone else gets to them, and is chomping at the bit to get Cal, and Lois Lane-esque newbie reporter Della Frye, played by Rachael McAdams, to find out all they can about a recent string of murders that now involves a congressman, played by Ben Affleck.

From the start, Cal is in support of helping the congressman because they are college buddies, and because he feels he is being framed for disaster, possibly with a threat on his life, and wastes no time in helping McAdams’ character gather information to support his case.

The newspaper business is a fascinating one and many movies in the past have shown us just how fascinating it can be; “Absence Of Malice,” and of course, “All The President’s Men,” just to name a few.

“State Of Play” is no “Presidents Men,” but it is a well-crafted film that will keep your attention and will keep you guessing until the last few seconds of the film.

“State Of Play” was originally a BBC series written by Paul Abbott. The film is skillfully written by Tony Gilroy (Bourne films), Billy Ray (Flightplan), and Matthew Carnahan (Lions For Lambs), and is deftly directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King Of Scotland).

Crowe turns in a solid performance, burying himself in the world of a journalist who has to keep the lines of his career and personal relationships from blurring. Not an easy task.

McAdams plays green reporter Frye, with spunk and charm, and shows why she is constantly working these days. Mirren, who never fails to amaze, continues to do so here, with wit and humor.

Affleck, who has been all but laughable in many past films, shows that if he plays things in an understated manner, he can actually be watchable and, well, good.

The supporting cast is also top notch.

Robin Wright Penn plays Affleck’s long-suffering wife with grace and effortless longing. She is a beautiful woman who has grown into an always-reliable actress.

Jason Bateman is hysterical as informant Dominic Foy, and Jeff Daniels is appropriately creepy as a God-wielding senator who allows himself to get lost in the political world of which he has chosen to be a part.

Will “State of Play” win any awards? Probably not. But it is a great weekend dramatic thriller and worth a full price ticket.