State of Play (film)

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State of Play
State of Play theatrical poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKevin Macdonald
Screenplay by
Based onState of Play
by Paul Abbott
Produced by
CinematographyRodrigo Prieto
Edited byJustine Wright
Music byAlex Heffes
Distributed by
Release dates
  • April 17, 2009 (2009-04-17) (United States)
  • April 22, 2009 (2009-04-22) (United Kingdom)
Running time
127 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • France
Budget$60 million[2]
Box office$88.8 million[3]

State of Play is a 2009 political thriller film directed by Kevin Macdonald. It is based on the 2003 British television serial of the same name.

The film tells of a journalist's (Russell Crowe) probe into the suspicious death of the assistant and mistress of a Congressman (Ben Affleck). The supporting cast includes Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright, and Jeff Daniels.

Macdonald said that State of Play is influenced by the films of the 1970s. He explores the privatization of American Homeland Security and, to a minor extent, journalistic independence, along with the relationship between politicians and the press. Released in North America on April 17, 2009, the film received generally positive reviews.


One night, thief Deshaun Stagg, fleeing through Georgetown, Washington, D.C., is shot and killed by a man carrying a metal briefcase. A pizza deliveryman witnesses the crime and is also shot, but left in a coma. The following morning, a young woman is killed by a Washington Metro train in what is presumed to be a suicide.

Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is distraught to learn the dead woman was Sonia Baker, a chief researcher on his staff. Collins, who is a military veteran, is leading an investigation into PointCorp, a private defense contractor with controversial operations involving mercenaries. Collins tells his old college roommate and friend Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), an investigative reporter for the fictional Washington Globe, that he had been having an affair with Sonia. She had sent him a cheerful video message on the morning of her death, which he believes indicates that she wasn't suicidal.

Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a political reporter and Capitol Hill blogger for the online division of the Globe, discovers Sonia's death occurred in one of the only three CCTV blind spots in the Metro camera system. Cal also finds a link between the shootings and Sonia's death. Later, Cal is sought out by a homeless girl, Mandi, who sells him photographs that Stagg, her friend, had taken from the metal briefcase, revealed to contain a gun and peculiar handmade bullets. The photos are surveillance images of Sonia talking to a well-dressed man. Della visits the hospital where the pizza deliveryman is coming out of his coma. Before she can talk to him, he is shot through the window and killed by an unseen sniper. Later, while reviewing the CCTV footage of the Metro platform area where Sonia died, Della recognizes a man as the same person she just saw at the hospital prior to the deliveryman's murder.

It is revealed that PointCorp stands to gain billions of dollars from mercenary activities in the Middle East and domestically. Collins tells Cal his findings: PointCorp, along with other defense contractors, have a monopoly on government surveillance and defense contracts, basically privatizing American security. An unnamed PointCorp insider gives Cal information on a person connected to the suspected assassin. Cal tracks the lead to an apartment complex, but finds the assassin instead. He chases Cal to the complex's garage and tries to kill him, but Cal calls the police and the assassin flees. Cal and Della later learn that Mandi has been killed.

With the aid of Sonia's flatmate Rhonda Silver (Katy Mixon), Della identifies the well-dressed man with Sonia in the photographs as Dominic Foy (Jason Bateman), a PR executive of a subsidiary of PointCorp. Silver also informs them about a threesome with Sonia and Collins, and wants to go public with this information; however, Della and Cal doubt her credibility. Meanwhile, other media organizations report on the story. Editor Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) is livid, as this would have boosted the Globe's sales.

Cal coerces Foy into talking about Sonia, secretly filming their conversation. Foy reveals Sonia was secretly working for PointCorp and spying on Collins. However, she fell in love and was pregnant with Collins' baby when she was killed. Cal reveals this information to Collins by playing the tape of the interview with Foy for him. Furious, Collins attacks Foy, lashes out at Cal, and storms off. Later that evening, Cal confronts Congressman George Fergus (Jeff Daniels), the chief whip congressman who had pretended to mentor Collins and recommended Sonia for the research position on Collins' staff. Cal informs Fergus that he plans to run a story about the link between Fergus and PointCorp, and how Fergus attempted to undermine Collins's investigation.

Cal's boss, Cameron Lynne, refuses to print his story due to the lack of credible sources. Just then, Collins and his wife Anne (Robin Wright) stop by the Globe's offices. Collins presents his research on PointCorp, talks about his affair with Sonia, and states his belief that PointCorp had Sonia killed when she stopped reporting back to them. Afterwards, Anne, whose conversation with Cal implies a past love triangle from their college years, casually mentions Sonia was secretly being paid $26,000 a month by PointCorp.

Later, while talking with Della, Cal remembers Collins was never shown the portion of Foy's interview tape that mentioned the specific amount of money Sonia was being paid by PointCorp. He realizes Collins knows much more about Sonia's involvement with the company than he is letting on and wonders if Collins is somehow connected to Sonia's murder. Cal recognizes the assassin in an old group military photo that also features Collins, confirming his hunch. Cal goes to Collins's office to confront him. Collins admits he had been suspicious of Sonia, and that he hired the assassin, U.S. Army corporal Robert Bingham (Michael Berresse), whose life Collins had once saved, to spy on her and report back to him. Collins says that Bingham hated PointCorp more than he did, and that he never told Bingham to kill Sonia.

Cal tells Collins the police will be arriving shortly. As he leaves the building, Cal is confronted by Bingham. Officers arrive and shoot and kill Bingham before he can shoot Cal. Back at the newspaper later that night, Cal types up the story. He reports that Collins was arrested for his role in the deaths of Sonia, the thief, the homeless girl, and the deliveryman. He puts Della first on the byline and lets her submit the story for publication.


Character Actor
Cal McAffrey Russell Crowe
Stephen Collins Ben Affleck
Della Frye Rachel McAdams
Cameron Lynne Helen Mirren
Anne Collins Robin Wright
Det. Donald Bell Harry Lennix
Dominic Foy Jason Bateman
George Fergus Jeff Daniels
Pete Josh Mostel
Greer Thornton Wendy Makkena
Sonia Baker Maria Thayer
Stuart Brown Michael Jace
Andrew Pell Brennan Brown
Robert Bingham Michael Berresse
Hank Michael Weston
Dr. Judith Franklin Viola Davis
Gene Stavitz Barry Shabaka Henley
PointCorp Insider David Harbour
Jessy Zoe Lister-Jones
Rhonda Silver Katy Mixon
Mandi Sarah Lord
Deshaun Stagg LaDell Preston

For the movie adaptation, certain names of characters were changed:

  • Della's surname was changed from "Smith" to "Frye".
  • Cameron's surname was changed from "Foster" to "Lynne," and the character's gender was changed.
  • Andrew's surname was changed from "Wilson" to "Pell".
  • Det. Bell's first name was changed from "William" to "Donald".


The television miniseries was written by Paul Abbott and aired on British television channel BBC One in May and June 2003 and on BBC America in April 2004.[4] Abbott was initially reluctant to sell the film rights to State of Play, fearing a compressed version of his miniseries would be unworkable, but in May 2004 he accepted a seven-figure Paramount Pictures-backed bid led by producer Scott Rudin.[5] The bid prevailed over an offer from Andrew Hauptman's Mission Pictures (backed by Warner Bros.), but the deal fell through before completion. After a second bidding war, Mission acquired the rights for Universal Pictures in December 2004.[6]

Director Kevin Macdonald had long been attached to the project, though an early report suggested screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan was set to make the film his directorial debut.[7] Macdonald was a fan of the original miniseries, and said it would be a "hard act to follow".

He said it was the blend of fiction and the topical subjects of journalism and politics that attracted him to the project, adding that he wanted to examine the ways in which American and European societies learn what is going on in the world, and to what degree newspapers and the nightly news could be trusted. He said that in an age when people read fewer newspapers, he wanted to explore the necessity for reliable information and the threat to the journalistic profession from collusion between reporters and politicians,[8] and that the film would "[ask] questions of how independent the press is, how much real investigating is conducted, and how much is taken on faith from lobbyists or PR sheets."[9] Macdonald cited the films of the 1970s, All the President's Men in particular, as major influences, saying that while he was scared of comparisons with the film account of the Watergate scandal, State of Play would primarily be a piece of entertainment.[8]

According to Carnahan, the story's core issue (and main factor behind his desire to write the adaptation) was the question it raised about whether a person would be justified in doing "a pretty awful thing" if performing great deeds in other areas of their life.[10] Carnahan began working on revisions to his script with Macdonald,[9] but the process was disrupted when Carnahan's daughter fell ill. When he chose to concentrate his time on his family, the task was handed to screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who performed a small rewrite based upon Carnahan's notes. He is known for the Bourne film series.[10] Further rewrites were carried out by Peter Morgan, screenwriter of The Queen[11] and writer/director Billy Ray, associated with Shattered Glass.[12]

The film was made for Universal Pictures by Working Title Films. Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan produced for Working Title, alongside E. Bennett Walsh,[13] and Andell Entertainment's Andrew Hauptman and Eric Hayes.[14] Paul Abbott served as executive producer alongside Liza Chasin and Debra Hayward.[14] Kristen Lowe and Maradith Frenkel were overseers for the studio.[15] State of Play was to be released in the United States toward the end of 2008,[16] but the delayed start to production saw the date changed to April 17, 2009.[17] State of Play was released in the United Kingdom on April 24, 2009,[18] and was released in Australia on May 28, 2009.[19]


I wanted to explore the ambiguity of journalism... It's a kind of a conceit that journalists live under, that they remain objective. That's never been my experience. They're all too human, all too emotionally affected. Someone could write absolute rubbish about you because their aunty's having a problem with cancer or something. It's the way they re-balance themselves. So I think examining that conceit and examining the true input of human experience in the journalism that we read, it was very interesting for me.

-- Russell Crowe on his attraction to the role of Cal McAffrey.[20]

Brad Pitt had a long association with the main role.[7] He was initially attracted to the project after watching Macdonald's documentary Touching the Void (2003),[21] and had enjoyed the director's film The Last King of Scotland (2006). Macdonald had also been working with Pitt's production company Plan B Entertainment on a potential future project.[9]

Pitt officially committed to star in State of Play in August 2007 after a Tony Gilroy script rewrite was completed.[22] He visited the newsroom of The Washington Post with Macdonald in September 2007 to research the role, spending four hours "talking shop" with political and investigative reporters.[23] But one week before filming was to begin in November 2007, he left the production.[16]

Producer Eric Fellner attempted to convince Pitt to remain in the film,[24] but Pitt disagreed with changes that the studio had made to the script since he originally agreed to star.[16] Talent agency CAA (which represents Pitt) maintained that he never signed off on the changes;[25] Macdonald delayed filming by a week to perform a scene-by-scene review of the script with Pitt; by the end, the director told the actor "I don't think we want to make the same film." When Pitt decided to drop out of the film, he personally called the director to tell him.[26] Pitt preferred a version closer to the original Carnahan draft and wanted to postpone filming until after the resolution of the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, which would have enabled a further rewrite. The studio preferred to press on with production, and initially said it intended to sue Pitt for reneging on his "pay or play" deal,[16] which would have earned him $20 million.[27] Settlement talks later led to a thawing of relations between the parties.[25] Pitt later said of the situation: "I had definite beliefs of what [the film] should be, and the director had his definite beliefs [and] we got up against this writers' strike where we couldn't fuse the two."[28]

Macdonald traveled to Australia to court Crowe's involvement,[29] which averted the film's abandonment after Pitt left. Crowe had to negotiate with the studio over shooting dates to avoid a conflict with Nottingham (later renamed Robin Hood), which he was due to star in for director Ridley Scott in March 2008.[30] Crowe said jumping immediately into the part was similar to immediately taking roles as a jobbing young actor. He had not seen the series, and was unsure about taking the role, as he could not compare a six-hour telling of the story to a two-hour adaption.[31] The majority of Crowe's three hours per day in hair and makeup preparation was spent hiding his "extremely long" hair, which he grew for his title role in Robin Hood.[20] During filming in Washington, DC, Crowe acquired an education in journalism from The Washington Post's Metro editor, R.B. Brenner.[32] Universal president of production Donna Langley said Crowe's performance was a naturalistic one, and claimed State of Play was a different film than the one that would have been made had Pitt remained.[33]

British newspaper The Independent noted that hiring an A-list American actor (Pitt) for the lead role was sidelining original McAffrey actor John Simm, who it said was "widely considered one of the best television actors to emerge in recent years" and that the recasting was "the latest example of the trend for British actors to be replaced by Americans". The Stage television writer Liz Thomas said that while it was frustrating for British actors, such casting made good commercial sense, expressing hope that the film's high-profile would be a "huge advert" or "shop window" for other such projects to come out of the UK in recent years.[7]

In a scene shot at the Library of Congress, the production employed several real-world journalists among the extras in a scene in which Wright-Penn's character makes a statement to the press. The group included Bob Woodward, Margaret Carlson, Bob Schieffer, John Palmer, E. J. Dionne, Katty Kay, and Steven Clemons. Additionally featured are cameos by news media commentators Lou Dobbs of CNN and Chris Matthews of MSNBC.[34] Long-time Washington, DC, area sportscaster Frank Herzog also has a non-speaking cameo as a congressman present at the PointCorp hearings.[35] Journalist and Clinton confidante Cody Shearer is credited as a consultant on the film. Steve Clemons observed that "Crowe's style, language, posture, everything — just had to be modeled on Cody Shearer."[36]

Affleck replaced Edward Norton, who had joined the project in September 2007,[37] but when the start of production was delayed due to Pitt's departure, Norton had a scheduling conflict, as he was committed to film Leaves of Grass for Tim Blake Nelson early in 2008. Norton asked Universal Pictures if he could be replaced,[38] and a deal was struck between the studio and the Endeavor Talent Agency (which represents Norton and Affleck) to enable Norton to leave the production amicably.[39] Crowe had partly been attracted to the project because of Norton's involvement, but he and Affleck had "so many touchstones in common", he was fine with the recasting.[26] Affleck visited Capitol Hill to research his role, meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representative Anthony D. Weiner of New York's 9th congressional district,[40] and members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation.[41] In an April 2009 interview to promote the film, Affleck said he drew on the experiences of Gary Condit, Elliot Spitzer, and John Edwards while preparing for the role.[42]


Principal photography took place between January 11, 2008,[43] and April 6, 2008.[32] Filming was originally scheduled to start in November 2007,[37] but was postponed due to Brad Pitt's unexpected departure from the production.[29] Eric Fellner indicated that the film was close to being abandoned, and credited Universal's chairman and co-chairman (Marc Shmuger and David Linde) with seeing the film to production.[25]

The exterior of the Department of Housing and Urban Development building in Washington, D.C. doubled as a hospital entrance.[44]

The first eight weeks of filming took place in Los Angeles,[20] which accounted for the majority of the shooting schedule.[45] A newsroom set was built to act as the hub of operations for the fictional Washington Globe newspaper. Costume designer Jacqueline West indicated that she looked to the newsroom of The Washington Post for inspiration, and used photos of The Baltimore Sun's newsroom to help her develop the journalists' looks.[46]

The production moved to Washington, DC for five weeks of location filming toward the end of the shoot,[45] commencing on March 6, 2008.[47] More than a third of State of Play was shot in Washington, DC,[20] with filming taking place throughout the city.[47] The filmmakers estimated that State of Play may have set a record for the longest studio shoot in the city.[32] Locations included the neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Shaw,[48] and Mount Pleasant.[49] Scenes set on Mount Pleasant Street were also filmed at the Los Angeles studio, where a full replica of the strip's facade was built.[50] In Georgetown, menswear store The District Line was transformed into a household goods store for the shooting of a chase scene for the film's opening sequence.[51]

Filming took place on various streets in Washington, DC,[52] including the U Street Corridor,[53] and at "practically every major landmark",[32] including outside the headquarters of the World Bank on Pennsylvania Avenue,[52] around Capitol Hill,[54] at the Supreme Court building,[55] outside the Library of Congress,[34] and at the Washington Monument.[32] Other locations included landmark restaurant Ben's Chili Bowl,[56] where restaurant workers were employed as extras,[55] and the Maine Avenue Fish Market.[53] The Americana Hotel in Crystal City was also used for the scenes in which McAffrey interrogates Dominic Foy.[57] The exterior of the Department of Housing and Urban Development building was used to double as a hospital entrance. In preparation for filming, eighteen two-foot by three-foot photographs of Secretary Alphonso Jackson were removed from the entrance.[44] The production's "working week" was Wednesday to Sunday, because several of the government buildings featured could not be used for filming during regular work days.[58] The Harbour Square Owners Cooperative complex was used as the home of Affleck's character.[59]

The Rosslyn Metro station is the setting for a scene in which a character is struck by a train. The station was chosen by the filmmakers for its long escalator that leads directly onto a platform.[13]

A key scene in which a character is struck by a train takes place on the Washington Metro. Filming for the scene took place at the Rosslyn Metro station in Virginia. The Rosslyn station was chosen because it was the only station in the Metro system to have a long escalator leading to a platform, with trains passing at the same times on upper and lower levels.[13] Filming also took place at night aboard two railcars at the Forest Glen Metro station in Maryland.[13][60]

Permission to film at the stations was granted after the script was vetted by the Metro's media relations office, which is notoriously discriminating about which productions it allows to film on the Metro. After the deaths of three Metro employees in 2006, the office was reluctant to allow filming of the scene, but because the script did not explicitly show a death, the office assented. Scenes on the Metro had to meet strict standards for logistics and safety. The portrayal of anything illegal in the system was not allowed, nor was showing characters eating, drinking, jumping over fare gates, or running on the tracks. The production also had to agree to film scenes at the busy Rosslyn station at times when the system was least busy: late at night and after rush hour. Producer E. Bennett Walsh said that the production chose not to shoot on the less restrictive Baltimore subway, which has substituted for Washington, DC in other films that have come up against the Metro's rules. He said, "To shoot any other subway, you would know you're not in Washington."[13]

Scenes were filmed at the Watergate complex, for which the production was granted permission to use the roof of a George Washington University campus building.[52] Scenes were also filmed in the morgue of the St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California.[61] Washington, DC police officer Quintin Peterson was employed as a consultant on the film. Peterson, who has acted as a script consultant and technical adviser on numerous productions in the city, helped the production to accurately depict the city's police force.[55]

Filming took place on the steps of the Scottish Rite Freemasonry temple in Washington, DC. Maryland's Montgomery Blair High School provided a marching band for the background. They were joined by players from the school's production of the Beauty and the Beast musical and students from Paint Branch High School's Winter guard to act as color guard for the scene.[62][63] Macdonald's aim was to recreate a famous 1970s Canadian photograph, which depicts rifle-twirling majorettes, in order to emphasize militaristic themes and to comment upon the place of guns in American society. The aesthetic also appealed to Macdonald: "it's just very colorful and beautiful and very American—like a piece of anthropology in America."[20]

The majority of filming over the last three weeks of the shoot took place at night. Filming for these scenes usually began at 5:00 p.m. and finished at 5:00 a.m.[58] A scene filmed under the Key Bridge in Georgetown on April 6, 2008 was the last of principal photography.[32]


Director of photography Rodrigo Prieto indicated that the film was shot in two distinct visual styles: scenes featuring the media were shot in the anamorphic format on 35mm film, while scenes focusing on the world of politics were shot in high-definition video with the Panavision Genesis digital video camera.[64] Hand-held cameras have been used.[65] For color management, Prieto employed Gamma & Density Company's 3cP color management and correction software,[66] using the American Society of Cinematographers' Color Decision List to keep color consistent throughout shooting, dailies, post and digital intermediate finishing process.[67] The digital effects were handled by Rhythm and Hues.[68]


Alex Heffes, who provided the music for Macdonald's One Day in September, Touching the Void, and The Last King of Scotland, scored the film. It was recorded in the United Kingdom. Heffes indicated that he had a preference for scoring around the dialogue rather than through it. As with the recording of his previous works, Heffes conducted the orchestra himself to enable re-scoring as the recording session proceeded. Macdonald involved moon early on in production, and in an unusual move for a studio film, he had Heffes write some of the music to State of Play in advance of principal photography, based purely upon the script. Heffes said this was to provide a hint to the direction the film was going to take. He said that he and Macdonald had decided to take the score down an unusual path, "off the beaten track", and that the prospect was a "liberating" one. Grammy Award-winning record producer "Flood" (aka Mark Ellis) worked with Heffes on the score. Heffes said that working with Ellis "opened his mind" and that they attempted to push boundaries. He said that in producing the score, Flood brought an aesthetic to recording the instruments that was atypical for film recording sessions.[69]

The song heard during the end credits is John Fogerty's "Long As I Can See The Light" performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival.


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, State Of Play holds an approval rating of 84% based on 217 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "A taut, well-acted political thriller, State of Play overcomes some unsubtle plot twists with an intelligent script and swift direction."[70] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 64 out of 100 based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[71] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.[72]

Philip Kemp from Total Film called it "a twisty substantial thriller" and said "It's not as exceptional as its source but the changes implemented mostly enhance rather than harm the story."[73] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times described the film as "a smart ingenious thriller", and he went on to say, "There are many other surprises in the film, which genuinely fooled me a couple of times, and maintains a certain degree of credibility for a thriller".[74]


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