Making the Grades
If you suspect that much of the money spent on the Iraqi war is going to civilians rather than military personnel, then State of Play might substantiate your worst fears. Replete with conspiracy theories, corrupt corporations and the death of a congressman’s mistress, this film has all the ingredients necessary for a riveting political thriller.
In the story, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the quintessential big city journalist who has been assigned to probe into the late night shootings of two unlucky victims. Grizzled, gruff and long-locked, he’s an old school reporter who has little regard for his newspaper’s new online blogger, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). She, in turn, has been asked to report on the apparent suicide of Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), a lead researcher on Capitol Hill and the mistress of Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck).
While the shootings and suicide initially appear unrelated, things begin to change when Stephen shows up on the doorstep of his old college roommate Cal. The breaking news about his illicit affair has strained his already tenuous relationship with his wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn) and left the disgraced politician searching for a place to land. While Cal feels some remorse for his former friend, his inquisitive nature can’t help but probe Stephen for more information about Sonia’s death and her role in a congressional committee investigation.
The real connection between the cases comes, however, when Cal finds Sonia’s number on the cell phone of one of the dead men. Working with Della, he begins to follow a sordid trail of deception that points directly toward the hallowed halls of democracy.
Although kids and teens will likely have little interest in this cast of mostly middle-aged actors (save it be Rachel McAdams), the film does pose a number of media-driven dilemmas for adults to consider. As editor of the flailing Washington Globe, Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) is understandably motivated to sell newspapers even if it means jeopardizing journalistic integrity. However her ethics aren’t the only ones in question. There is a roster of flawed heroes in this film including Cal, whose commitment to finding the truth involves bending the law, dishing out threats and delaying the exposure of criminal evidence.
The script also contains a generous portion of sexual innuendo, suggestive terms for sexual activity and discussions of past affairs coupled with repeated profanities, terms of Deity and at least two uses of a sexual expletive. Portrayals of murder, bloody injuries, stalking, and unethical business practices also impact the lives of players and innocent bystanders in this political thriller.
With the sales of traditional newspapers sagging dramatically, State of Play is, if nothing else, a glamorized look at this historical source of news delivery. Yet despite some strong media messages and good performances, State of Play contains enough content concerns to justify leaving young viewers at home.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about State of Play.
How does Cal feel about Della’s job as a newspaper blogger? Does he consider her to be a “real journalist”? What impact does electronic newspaper delivery have on the business?
Despite all the good things Stephen has done as a congressman, he laments that all he will be remembered for is his indiscretion with Sonia. Is it fair to label people because of one mistake? Should he be forgiven or held accountable? What kind of small, seemingly unimportant acts lead to the downfall of many of the characters in this story?
Though journalist should present unbiased reports, is it possible for a writer to be completely neutral about an article? In what ways do newspapers, broadcasts or other news sources slant their stories?