June 18, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 30 April 2009 11:01
Looking for a movie to share with your family? Each week, the Reel Dad shares the “nutritional value” of a new release at the theater or on DVD. And, this week, he checks out State of Play, now in local theaters.
I love to read the newspaper. My day simply does not begin in the right way without my cup of coffee, my newspaper, and my quiet moment before the noise begins. And I love the newsprint residue that the newspaper can leave on my fingertips. What a small sacrifice to feel so informed.
The new thriller State of Play is all about people who love newspapers, too. Russell Crowe is the classic investigative reporter from the movies — smart, thoughtful, sloppy, curious — who simply believes in doing a thorough job of reporting. His is a noble profession, a meaningful way to work. And if, in the meantime, he finds himself in the middle of a political scandal, so much the richer his writing will be.
But Crowe’s character, like many in traditional journalism, finds himself at odds with all that is happening with social media. All of a sudden the attentions of his newspaper, a big city daily such as The Washington Post, focus on the potential of instant journalism, in the form of blogs, to boost sales opportunities. Crowe’s character believes real reporting requires reflection, while the times, and reader attention, may be headed somewhere else.
This conflict within the world of newspapers is at the heart of a highly entertaining and thought-provoking film. While State of Play boasts a plot of political intrigue — involving a scandalous Congressman and a suspicious government contractor — the core of the story is how a newspaper committed to thoughtful and careful reporting adjusts to a new media world where speed is paramount. The film raises a lot of questions, offers only a few answers, but entertains in a big way.
Crowe is in his stride as the salty reporter who knows everyone in town, eats bad food and looks like he never washes his clothes or gets a haircut. When he begins to investigate a series of homicides, and learns that one implicates his close friend, a Congressman with something to hide, his intuition as a reporter conflicts with his loyalty as a friend. Added to this stress is the pressure from a newspaper publisher with profits on the brain (Helen Mirren) and a blogger with a strong sense of the purpose of new media (Rachel McAdams). But the reporter never forgets his primary job is the news. And he battles any efforts to compromise the integrity of his work.
What emerges is a philosophical debate about the purpose of journalism (to be fast or to be accurate) framed within an exciting character-driven thriller. Crowe, who is such a commanding actor, never lets one agenda get in the way of the other. As entertaining as the film is, we are frequently reminded of the more serious issues; as thought-provoking as the message may be, the film never forgets its primary purpose is to entertain. While its balance may not be as tight as the classic newspaper films of the 1970s and 1980s — such as All the President’s Men and Absence of Malice — the issues are a bit cloudier today, too.
As the film concludes, and scenes of a newspaper’s production roll over the credits, an inevitable sadness begins simply because the fate of the newspaper as a part of our daily experience is in such serious question. And though blogs and social media may fill a gap of information, they cannot compete with a daily dose of insight. No matter the story, there’s always a need for a good investigative reporter to try to learn and share just a bit more.
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