State of Play (film)

State of Play

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Produced by Andrew Hauptman
Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan
Tony Gilroy
Billy Ray
Based on State of Play
by Paul Abbott
Starring Russell Crowe
Ben Affleck
Rachel McAdams
Robin Wright Penn
Jason Bateman
Jeff Daniels
Helen Mirren
Music by Alex Heffes
Cinematography Rodrigo Prieto
Edited by Justine Wright
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • April 17, 2009 (2009-04-17) (United States)
  • April 22, 2009 (2009-04-22) (United Kingdom)
Running time
128 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $60 million[1]
Box office $87,812,371[2]

State of Play is a 2009 British-French-American political thriller film. It is an adaptation of the six-part British television serial of the same name which first aired on BBC One in 2003. The plot of the six-hour serial was condensed to fit a two-hour film format, with the location changed to Washington, D.C. The film was directed by Kevin Macdonald from a screenplay written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan and Billy Ray.

The film tells of a journalist's (Russell Crowe) probe into the suspicious death of a congressman's (Ben Affleck) mistress. The supporting cast includes Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn and Jeff Daniels. Macdonald said that State of Play is influenced by the films of the 1970s and explores the topical subject of privatization of American Homeland Security and to a minor extent journalistic independence, along with the relationship between politicians and the press. It was released in North America on April 17, 2009. The film received generally positive reviews.


One night, a thief fleeing through Georgetown in Washington, D.C., is shot by a man carrying a briefcase. A pizza delivery man who witnesses the incident is also shot by the killer and is left in a coma. The following morning, a young woman is killed by a Washington Metro train in what seems to be suicide. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is distraught to hear that the woman was Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), a lead researcher on his staff. Collins, who has military experience, is leading an investigation into PointCorp, a private defense contractor with controversial operations involving mercenaries. Collins tells his former college roommate and old friend Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), an investigative reporter, that he had been having an affair with Sonia and that she had sent him a cheerful video message on the morning of her death, which he says is inconsistent and unusual behavior for someone about to commit suicide.

Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a reporter and blogger with the online division of Cal's newspaper and its editor, Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), discover that Sonia's death occurred in one of only three CCTV blind spots in the Metro camera system. Cal believes the shootings are related to Sonia's death and finds a link between the petty thief and a homeless girl who sought out Cal. The girl gives him photographs that the thief, a friend of hers, had stolen from the killer's briefcase. The photos show surveillance images of Sonia talking to a well-dressed man. Della visits the hospital where the pizza delivery man is regaining consciousness. While at his room, she witnesses the pizza delivery man shot dead by an unseen sniper. Later, she reviews CCTV footage and recognizes a man she saw at the hospital.

It is later revealed that PointCorp stands to gain 36.95€ billion (over $24.3 billion U.S. in 2009) annually from its mercenary activities in the Middle East and domestically. Cal speaks with Collins, who shares his research findings—PointCorp is cooperating with other defense contractors to create a monopoly and purchase government surveillance and defense contracts, essentially privatizing United States security from the government. Cal's PointCorp insider returns with the address of someone linked to the suspected assassin. Cal finds the assassin living there and calls the police, who force the man to disappear after he shoots at Cal.

Della, following a close lead, finds the identity of the well-dressed man who was speaking to Sonia in the listed photographs. He is Dominic Foy (Jason Bateman), a PR executive working for a subsidiary of PointCorp. Cal blackmails him into talking about his activities with Sonia and secretly tapes their conversation. The PR executive reveals that Sonia was actually paid to spy on Collins and to seduce him to get information for PointCorp, but she fell in love with Collins and was pregnant with his child when she was killed.

Before Cal's newspaper goes to press, Collins goes on record to present his research into PointCorp. Collins's estranged wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn), whose conversation with Cal seems to imply a past love triangle dating back to their college years, reveals that she knows the amount of money Sonia received from PointCorp, after just hearing Collins's statement to the newspaper. After the couple leaves, Cal realizes that Collins knew already that Sonia was working for PointCorp. Cal wonders what Collins would have done had he known he had been tricked and whether Collins himself is connected with Sonia's assassin. A picture of Collins from his military days, with the assassin in the frame, confirms Cal's hunch. Collins reveals that he had been suspicious of Sonia, and that he hired the assassin to watch her. The assassin is U.S. Army Corporal Robert Bingham (Michael Berresse), whose life Collins had once saved. Collins says that Bingham hated PointCorp more than he did, and that he killed Sonia with no authorization from him.

Cal tells Collins that he has three minutes to leave his office before the police arrive, as he has already contacted them. As he leaves the building, Cal is confronted by Bingham. Officers arrive and shoot Bingham before he opens fire. Cal leaves and goes to his office. There, Cal and Della type up their own story, noting that Collins was secured and arrested.


Character TV series Film
Cal McCaffrey John Simm Russell Crowe
Stephen Collins David Morrissey Ben Affleck
Della Kelly Macdonald Rachel McAdams
Cameron Bill Nighy Helen Mirren
Anne Collins Polly Walker Robin Wright
Det. Bell Philip Glenister Harry Lennix
Dominic Foy Marc Warren Jason Bateman
George Fergus James Laurenson Jeff Daniels
Pete Benedict Wong Josh Mostel
Greer Thornton Deborah Findlay Wendy Makkena
Stuart Brown Rory McCann (uncredited) Michael Jace
Andrew Michael Feast Brennan Brown

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


The mini-television series was written by Paul Abbott and aired on British television channel BBC One in MayJune 2003 and on BBC America in April 2004.[3] Abbott was initially reluctant to sell the film rights to State of Play, fearing a compressed version of his mini-series would be unworkable, but in May 2004 a seven-figure Paramount Pictures-backed bid led by producer Scott Rudin was accepted.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] Macdonald was a fan of the original mini-series, 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,[7] 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."[8] 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.[7]

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 they were performing great deeds in other areas of their life.[9] Carnahan began working on revisions to his script with Macdonald,[8] 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 Bourne film series screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who performed a small rewrite based upon Carnahan's notes.[9] Further rewrites were carried out by The Queen screenwriter Peter Morgan[10] and Shattered Glass writer/director Billy Ray.[11]

The film was made for Universal Pictures by Working Title Films. Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan produced for Working Title, alongside E. Bennett Walsh,[12] and Andell Entertainment's Andrew Hauptman and Eric Hayes.[13] Paul Abbott executive produced alongside Liza Chasin and Debra Hayward.[13] Kristen Lowe and Maradith Frenkel were overseers for the studio.[14] State of Play was to be released in the United States towards the end of 2008,[15] but the delayed start to production saw the date changed to April 17, 2009.[16] State of Play was released in the United Kingdom on April 24, 2009,[17] and was released in Australia on May 28, 2009.[18]


"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.[19]

Brad Pitt had a long association with the main role.[6] He was initially attracted to the project after watching Macdonald's documentary Touching the Void (2003),[20] 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.[8] Pitt officially committed to star in State of Play in August 2007 after a Tony Gilroy script rewrite was completed.[21] 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,[22] but one week before filming was to begin in November 2007, he left the production.[15]

Producer Eric Fellner attempted to convince Pitt to remain in the film,[23] but Pitt was in disagreement with the studio over changes that had been made to the script since he originally agreed to star.[15] Talent agency CAA (which represents Pitt) maintained that he never officially signed off on the changes;[24] 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 called the director himself to say so.[25] 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 was to sue Pitt for reneging on his "pay or play" deal,[15] which would have earned him $20 million.[26] Settlement talks later led to a thawing of relations between the parties.[24] 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."[27]

Macdonald traveled to Australia to court Crowe's involvement,[28] which averted the film's abandonment after Pitt left. Crowe also 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.[29] 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 unlikely to as one could not compare a six-hour telling of the story to a two-hour adaption.[30] 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.[19] During filming in Washington, D.C., Crowe acquired an education in journalism from The Washington Post's Metro editor, R.B. Brenner.[31] 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.[32]

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.[6]

In a scene shot at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the production employed the presence of several real-world journalists amongst 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 real-life news media commentators Lou Dobbs of CNN and Chris Matthews of MSNBC.[33] Long-time Washington, DC area sportscaster Frank Herzog also has a non-speaking cameo as a congressman present at the PointCorp hearings.[34] 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."[35]

Affleck replaced Edward Norton, who had joined the project in September 2007,[36] but when the start of production was delayed due to Pitt's departure, a scheduling conflict developed for Norton with Leaves of Grass, which he was committed to film for Tim Blake Nelson early in 2008. Norton asked Universal Pictures if he could be replaced,[37] 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.[38] 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.[25] Affleck visited Capitol Hill to research his role, meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representative Anthony D. Weiner of New York's 9th congressional district,[39] and members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation.[40] 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.[41]


Principal photography took place between January 11, 2008,[42] and April 6, 2008.[31] Filming was originally scheduled to start in November 2007,[36] but was postponed due to Brad Pitt's unexpected departure from the production.[28] 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.[24]

The exterior of the Department of Housing and Urban Development building in Washington, D.C. doubled as a hospital entrance.[43]

The first eight weeks of filming took place in Los Angeles,[19] which accounted for the majority of the shooting schedule.[44] A "massive" newsroom set was built to act as the hub of operations for the fictional Washington Globe newspaper.[45] 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, D.C. for five weeks of location filming towards the end of the shoot,[44] commencing on March 6, 2008.[47] More than a third of State of Play was shot in Washington, D.C.,[19] 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.[31] 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 to shoot a chase scene for the film's opening sequence.[51]

Filming took place on various streets in Washington, D.C.,[52] including the U Street Corridor,[53] and at "practically every major landmark",[31] 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,[33] and at the Washington Monument.[31] 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.[43] 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 in Washington, D.C. doubled 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.[12]

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.[12] Filming also took place at night aboard two railcars at the Forest Glen Metro station in Maryland.[12][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, D.C. in other films that have come up against the Metro's rules, because "To shoot any other subway, you would know you're not in Washington."[12]

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, D.C. 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, D.C. 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."[19]

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 in the principal photography stage.[31]


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 35 mm 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 will be conducting the orchestra himself to enable re-scoring as the recording session proceeds. Macdonald prefers to involve Heffes 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) is working 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 that Cal McAffrey is singing along with at the beginning of the film is a Newfoundland folk song entitled The Night Paddy Murphy Died as sung by the Canadian band Great Big Sea. Russell Crowe has had an extended personal and professional relationship with the band and its lead singer, Alan Doyle.


The film-critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, reported State Of Play received positive reviews from 84% of 178 critics, with an average score of 6.9/10,[70] with the critical consensus "A taut, well-acted political thriller, State of Play overcomes some unsubtle plot twists with an intelligent script and swift direction." Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 64 out of 100 based on 36 reviews from mainstream critics.[71] 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."[72] 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".[73]

As of April 1, 2011 the film has grossed a total of $87,812,371.[2]


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