Based on the BBC miniseries of the same name, State of Play follows veteran DC reporter Cal McAffrey (Crowe), joined by cub reporter Della Frye (McAdams), as they works to uncover the mystery behind the death of the staff assistant of close friend and US congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck). Meanwhile, Collins must salvage his political career in the wake of scandalous rumours about an affair with his dead staff assistant, while investigating a shady government weapons supplier. As the homicide investigation winds its tumultuous course, the movie takes a cursory, though far too unrealised, look at the relationship between politics and the press, and between McAffrey and Collins.
As a genre thriller, State of Play succeeds tremendously. The plot and pacing are excellent and keep the viewer continuously entertained. The investigation into the homicides evolves into a compelling narrative, while occasional glances at Collins dealing with the fallout from a political scandal make for a multifaceted story. Helen Mirren and Robin Penn Wright each round off a strong supporting cast.
That said, State of Play never manages to become much more than a conventional thriller. The critically acclaimed BBC miniseries upon which the movie is based was heralded for its compelling examination of the relationship between politics and the press. The movie, however, forgoes much of this rich but rarely examined mine in favour of tired genre conventions such as hurried chases in parking garages and shots of brows pensively furrowed in time to a thumping soundtrack. State of Play is thrilling, but don't expect much more than that.