Wednesday, April 22, 2009

State of Play

Just as newsrooms have been slow to embrace the Internet, up until recently, Hollywood hadn't really depicted the impact of the blogosphere and online media on modern journalism. The only modern journalism movies that come to mind at all are "The Insider" and "Shattered Glass," so a movie about an online newsroom seems long overdue. Granted, the final season of "The Wire" tried to tackle this, but as much as I adore that show, the fictional take on the Baltimore Sun seemed to ignore the impact of the Internet, even as it showed the endless buyouts and foreign bureau closings. However, the American remake of "State of Play" is a big step forward.

That's not the say that the movie is entirely successful. While the acting is uniformly very good - yes, even the unfairly malligned Ben Affleck holds his own - the big plot twist at the end seems anti-climactic and kills much of the momentum. I'm also not a fan of the private military takeover scheme, which was just too expansive and implausible to believe. But the one thing the film gets right is the clash between old and new media.

One of the central (platonic) relationships in "State of Play" is between Russell Crowe's veteran reporter, Cal, and Rachel McAdams' professional blogger. They are assigned to a story about the apparent suicide of a Senator's aide. The assignment eventually expands in scope, and along the way, we see the two reporters bicker with each other and their editor, played by Hellen Mirren.

The editor is quick to put the blogger on the case at its inception, since it's mainly a fluff piece to generate traffic. However, once it's clear that there's more to the story, McAdam's character is nearly taken off the beat so that the old-school journalist can do the heavy-lifting. And along the way, we see the cable news channels and tabloids displayed everywhere, giving the moviegoer the impression of the full, 24/7 news cycle at work.

Without spoiling anything, by the end of the movie, new-school and old-school journalism have compromised, and the two reporters find out how to work together. However, the last minutes of the movie definitely tip in favor of print, as we see Cal put the finishing touches on another front page story. Perhaps a bit too romanticized considering how quickly the profession is shifting, but I think the closing moments will warm any budding journalist's heart, no matter how incredulous he or she is along the way.


  1. Well since I watched this film with you I feel inclined to comment about it, though I know we discussed it at length on the ride home. I think you brought up just the right points, a mark of a movie connoisseur. Still my favorite quote by far was Crowe saying to McAdams something to the effect of "why don't I just read a few blogs and form an opinion" - I think that sums up what a lot of print reporters feel about blogs.

    Part of my critique of the movie is that it glorified sneaky and illegal tactics to get stories, that I don't think reporters utilize as much as was indicated. Lying to get sources to talk, videotaping someone without their knowledge and other things like that bothered me and may have turned people off from the media even more.

    Nice comment about Ben Affleck, though I can't get over all the bad hairstyles in this film :o)

  2. I definitely have to check this movie out. I enjoy a good conspiracy! Illegal tactics, ey? Well, I'm sure that most professional journalists would throw a fit, but hey, the drama is entertaining and kind of cool to imagine.