A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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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.
Talk to your kids 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)?
- In theaters: April 17, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: September 1, 2009
- Cast: Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Russell Crowe
- Director: Kevin Macdonald
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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