State of Play marks Russell Crowe's second consecutive political thriller. As Cal McAffrey he's a newspaper reporter for the struggling Washington Post. A recent double murder of a young hoodlum and a pizza delivery boy within the dark alleys of Washington DC seems like another routine news day for McAffrey, but it's all part of a story that may actually become intertwined in a political scandal soon to rock the city. Ben Affleck plays Congressman Stephen Collins, an old college roommate and friend of McAffrey's whose life is turned upside down when it's discovered that his lead researcher in a legal case against a privately funded corporation mysteriously meets her demise at the hand of a speeding subway car. Rumor quickly leaks out that this woman was much more than a researcher for Collins but also his mistress, and that her death may possibly be linked to her romantic involvement with Collins.
With McAffrey having past ties with Collins, the Post's Chief Editor Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) looks to McAffrey for some news to break before everyone else, but he's not too quick to throw his old friend under the bus without any hard evidence. On the other hand newcomer and Washington Post blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) is already ahead of the game with her unbiased post on Collins's newly revealed affair which lacks the tack or factual knowledge to impress Cal McAffrey. This all leads McAffrey on a mission to discover the truth while at the same time stand up for his friend and write a story that he's proud to write because it's the truth. But as McAffrey and Frye begin to delve deeper into the the girl's history and her connection with Collins, McAffrey's quick to discover that keeping friends and writing good articles might not go hand in hand as their investigation quickly begins to appear more like a conspiracy with multiple key players.
After two rather disappointing attempts in political espionage with The International and Body of Lies, the thriller genre really needed a strong comeback to renew it, luckily State of Play manages to do that. Russell Crowe's performance in Body of Lies was limited to more of a minor role in a story that seemingly mirrored the below average film Blood Diamond, but this time around Russell regains a place in the driver's seat where he belongs and again reminds viewers why he's considered one of the best actors of our day. Crowe manages to make McAffrey a very likable character, using his charm and wit to has advantage as he masters the character's subtle humor and sarcasm, but also at the same time portraying the battle between friendship and career.
Rachel McAdams makes a much anticipated return (at least for me) to the big screen, putting forth her usual impressive performance as cub reporter Della Frye. Last time Rachel made a largely distributed feature film was 2005's The Family Stone, so it was nice to see one of my favorite actresses back on the big screen, and 2009 looks to be a big year for her as she's to be featured in two other films this year. Finally Ben Affleck, a name that makes me cringe every time I hear it in a film I want to see. It's no secret what I think of Affleck as an actor, he's horrible, but surprisingly enough he doesn't do much damage in this film. Is his performance any good? Not really, but thankfully he doesn't hurt the film too much. Personally I was disappointed when Edward Norton had to leave the film due to scheduling conflicts, had he been playing the Congressman instead of Affleck I'd probably be giving this film an even higher score.
Overall, State of Play is a nice addition to the political thriller genre. The film does a nice job of keeping you guessing about the outcome, and the performances by Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and a couple of the other well known supporting cast members make this a film worth watching multiple times. I've never seen it's British equivalent so I can't compare how the two stack up, but I can say I found this Americanized version quite entertaining and one of my top favorites of the year so far.