State of Play Movie Poster Image

State of Play



Mature, well-acted thriller mixes violence and politics.
Parents recommend
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 132 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The main characters all make morally ambiguous choices, and it's hard to tell who's "good" and who's "bad." Protagonists are adulterous, keep evidence from the police, lie, and are involved in illegal, violent acts. On the other hand, a journalist is willing to report the truth even if it means alienating a close friend.


An ex-military assassin executes a string of people involved in a central intrigue -- some of whom are innocent bystanders.


Discussion of sexual improprieties, including adultery, menage a trois, and a highly publicized political sexual scandal.


Language includes words like "s--t," "ass," "bitch," "screwing," "dick," "oh my God," and a couple of exclamations of "Christ!" and "f--k."


Featured products include Saab and Cadillac.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink (in bars, at home, and at work) and smoke cigarettes on several occasions.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this Russell Crowe/Ben Affleck thriller is a mix of violence, political intrigue, and sexual innuendo -- all mature themes that are unlikely to appeal to young viewers. Characters steal, drink, smoke, and lie to the point where it's unclear who's the victim and who's the victimizer. There's some strong language (including a couple exclamations of "f--k"), drinking, and smoking as well. Sexuality is more discussed (including conversations about adultery and three-ways) than shown, except for some flirting between a couple of characters.

What's the story?

Seasoned Washington Globe reporter Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) is busy looking into two Georgetown murders when a pretty political aide winds up dead in an apparent suicide. To add some blog-worthy sensationalism to the story, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) was not only having an affair with the beautiful staffer (Maria Thayer), but he's also in the middle of a high-profile congressional hearing investigating a private security firm's alleged war crimes (think Blackwater). Cal and his eager young colleague Della (Rachel McAdams) try to track down the truth, but the story is complicated by his personal history with Collins, a good friend since college.

Is it any good?


Director Kevin Macdonald draws heavily from testosetrone-driven '70s political dramas like All the President's Men to frame his big-screen adaptation of the award-winning BBC series. Even the idea of a newspaper breaking important news is pretty '70s, since at this point we'd all find out via Twitter or Facebook whether a politician's girlfriend was murdered. Still, Crowe -- all slobbified with oily long hair, an extra 15 pounds of flab, and a cluttered old Saab -- is game for the throwback action. Unfortunately, Affleck is no Redford to Crowe's Hoffman. Sure, he's perfect for the part of a pretty-boy politician who somehow looks 10 years younger than his former college roommate, but he's no acting match for Crowe.

But you can thank the casting gods for the wonderful trifecta of supporting actresses -- Helen Mirren (as the paper's top editor), McAdams, and Robin Wright Penn (as Collins' betrayed wife, who once had an affair with Cal) -- each of whom goes toe to toe with Crowe. Jason Bateman is also brilliant as a flashy public relations hack, and Jeff Daniels is all political smarm as a corrupt senior congressman. Besides Affleck's underwhelming portrayal, there's one too many holes in the twisty plot. But even as an old-school thriller that falls short, STATE OF PLAY is still better than many of its peers.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's message about the relationship between the media and politics. Do you think real-life politicians try to deceive the press -- and that real life reporters pretend and sometimes outright lie to get a scoop?

  • Teens: Do you and your friends rely more on the Internet than on print for news? Do you think newspapers are a sinking ship (as depicted in the movie)?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 17, 2009
DVD/Streaming release date:September 1, 2009
Cast:Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Russell Crowe
Director:Kevin Macdonald
Studio:Universal Pictures
Run time:132 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content

This review of State of Play was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Educator Written byLibrarian Lynne April 23, 2009


This is more of an intellectual thriller than a really violent one which I and my 14 year old appreciated. For example initial murder happens off screen and a the plot driver rather than the main event. Plot twists will be beyond most younger tweens. While characters have made some "morally ambiguous choices" I think it is OK to start teaching teens that life is not always black and white. The message is making the best choice available, telling the truth even when it's hard, doing the "right" thing and really considering your base motives for your actions. Acting was great by everybody.
Parent of a 13 and 15 year old Written byuberdad September 3, 2009

politically mature teens will love it; others may get lost

great story line; makes viewers think; good acting; nothing over the edge for teens; younger teens may not follow storyline well enough to enjoy the film but content is not offensive or over the edge even for 11 year olds.
Adult Written byhelenmirrenrox June 29, 2011

Good Movie

Good movie. There are two f**ks and some other words like B***h, S**t, and Da*n it. There is violence that is minor and some sexy stuff. One of the 'f' words is played for laughs, because Helen Mirren is mad and says "F**k you ver much". But Russel Crowe and Rachel McAdams are good roll models because they investigate crimes and help make the world a good place. But it isn't a good message because there is killing and yelling.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?