State of Play (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content.
Length: 127 minutes.
Grade: BC-BB=B
Budget: $60 million
Box Office: $98 million (37 U.S., 51 Intl., 10 DVD)

Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan(Lions for Lambs, The Kingdom), Tony Gilroy(Michael Clayton, Duplicity, Bourne Trilogy, Proof of Life, Armageddon, Devil’s Advocate), and Billy Ray (Breach, Flightplan, Hart’s War).
Directed by: Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, and Jason Bateman.

In this movie adapted from a British miniseries set in Parliament, a veteran reporter becomes drawn into a major Washington conspiracy when his best friend, a Congressman, has a staffer murdered. It turns out they were having an affair and she was also the lead researcher for him on his investigation of a mercenary contractor based thinly on Blackwater.

Entertainment Value: B
While watching this, I had the same, although exact opposite problem as I had with Eagle Eye. In that movie, I disconnected early on because it seemed impossible to explain what was happening, even though a somewhat plausible explanation was eventually given. In this movie, I disconnected because it seemed they had given so much of the plot away so early that there was no reason for the remaining 90 minutes, even though there were some mildly interesting twists in the end. All that said, a movie about media and corruption in power is always going to be fairly interesting to me, and (although I’m sure I’ll catch flak for it) I like Russell Crowe. Despite his truly strange off-stage life, his acting always makes movies better than they would be. This felt very much like another sequel in the recent line of political-war-corruption movies that the makers’ credits reveal, but it’s probably one of the better ones. Don’t give up on it like I almost did. It does get (somewhat) better, even though the very end scene makes no sense whatsoever.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C-, Language D
Everyone drinks. Affairs are the subplot. People are killed by gunshots and by being pushed in front of a subway train. And there is fairly constant medium profanity, including some F language. PG-13 is just right, except for the language.

Significant Content: B
Journalism is a very complicated process, shaped by the news cycle, money, access to information, personal relationships, ego, fame, perseverance, and other people trying to manipulate the process for their own reasons. The truth must come out, no matter what the consequences, but people are still held accountable for what they publish. Politicians are corrupt, even the good ones. Private military contractors are a massive danger to the freedom and security of the United States.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
In a way, just like the other movies these guys have made, this is so complex and story-oriented that it’s not likely to generate a ton of discussion. Some movies lead to analysis, others almost seem to make analysis a little trite or silly.

Discussion Questions:
~The characters in this movie seem slower to grasp the likely conspiracy than the audience is. Does that seem plausible to you? Once they do grasp it, they are still frustrated by trying to prove it enough to go to press. If you had to guess, how much that news journalists know about the world doesn’t get published only because it can’t be reliably confirmed?
~The standard of evidence for conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” What standard exists for journalism? Do you think that a person’s reputation should be vulnerable to such a lowered standard of responsibility? How do you balance concern for slander against the importance of people knowing the truth and free speech?
~One scene in this movie deals with the choice whether to reveal a character flaw that would discredit someone who people need to believe in order to accept the entire big picture of what’s going on. How responsible are news people for releasing stories in such a way that the truth is going to be heard rather than ignored or dismissed?
~How much responsibility does a fictional story like this have for the implications and allegations it seems to be making about a real-life agency or people? Are you worried about companies like Blackwater?
~On a scale of 1-10, how corrupt do you think the average politician is? What about journalists? What inclines you to distrust politicians and trust journalists, presuming that you do?
~Rep. Collins complains at one point that all his legislative work will be forgotten in the wake of his affair and the murder. Is he right? Is that unfair?
~This movie seems to be saying that print journalism is both less profitable and also more reliable than blogging. What do you believe is true when comparing these two news delivery platforms?

Overall Grade: B
It’s above average, but not great. If you liked The Kingdom and Breach, you’ll like this. If not, well, you still might anyhow, but no promises.

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