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Movie Review

State of Play a.k.a. “La Sombra del poder,” “Devlet oyunlari,” “Intrigas do Estado,” “State of Play—Stand der Dinge”

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content.

Reviewed by: Michael Karounos

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Drama
1 hr. 58 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
April 17, 2009 (wide—2,700 theaters)
Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Universal Pictures

THE NEW TOLERANCE—It’s politically correct, but does it hold danger for followers of Christ? Is love the same thing as tolerance? Answer

Murder in the Bible






What part should morality play in politics? Answer

Does character matter in political leaders? Answer

Featuring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Katy Mixon, Jeff Daniels, Harry Lennix, Viola Davis, Maria Thayer, Rob Benedict, Wendy Makkena, Bonita Friedericy, David Harbour, Brianna Womick, Zoe Lister Jones, Arabella Field, Jennifer Rouse, Gregg Binkley, Brennan Brown, Cornell Womack, Dan Brown, Brenda Goodbread, Pamela Fischer, Christopher Thornton, Eileen Grubba, Michael Berresse, Sarah Lord, Aurelius DiBarsanti, Robert Bizik, Carolyn Barrett, Matt Gulbranson, Larry Carter, Kimrie Lewis, Matthew Cannon, David E. Goodman, John G. Pavelec, Rick Hickman, Lance Strumpf, Jonathan Rackman, Nick Schutt, Michael Ray Reed, Mariano Gowland
Director: Kevin Macdonald
The Last King of Scotland
Producer: Andell Entertainment, Bevan-Fellner, Relativity Media, Studio Canal, Universal Pictures, Working Title Films, Paul Abbott, Tim Bevan, Liza Chasin, Eric Fellner, Andrew Hauptman, Eric Hayes, Debra Hayward, E. Bennett Walsh
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Find the truth”

“State of Play” is the latest in a line of Iraq war movies and it is the most clever of the bunch because it disguises its subject. Although it indicts the war, returning veterans, and private companies, it does so through the mechanism of a thriller and is not marketed as an anti-war movie. However, the message is hard to miss when a blonde-haired mercenary with a crew cut is described as a “thick-necked, corn-fed, former Navy Seal,” and one of the characters says of veterans: “These soldiers are answerable to no one. They do whatever the hell they want.”

There is a great deal of irony and some suspicious coincidence that “State of Play” opened in the same week that The Department of Homeland Security disseminated a controversial report against the advice of its civil rights lawyers which suggested that:

“Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.”

The report was approved by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and released to law enforcement agencies and the media even though the department vetters said the report had, what was delicately referred to, as “problems.” Coincidence or not, we learn in “State of Play” that a murder was the “Mark of a pro or someone with a military background. Point Corp. is founded by and 100% staffed by former military.”

The identity of the murderer is revealed in the opening scenes and his affiliation with the “extremists” in the private corporation who, in the shrill language of the Napolitano report, “recruit and radicalize returning veterans,” is also revealed long before the ending. The point of “State of Play” is simple: United States Army veterans are dangerous, possibly psychotic, and cannot be trusted. They “love their country” but they kill civilians and they must be stopped at any cost.

Russell Crowe stars as an investigative reporter for the Washington Globe which is supposed to remind viewers of the Washington Post. In case viewers don’t make the connection, Crowe (grossly overweight and long-haired) looks glancingly like Bob Woodward of Deep Throat fame. Still don’t get it? The villains are staying at—ready?—the Watergate Hotel. And, in keeping with the rule of three, the hotel is mentioned three times.

Ben Affleck stars as a congressman with moral entanglements and opposite him stars Jeff Daniels (also overweight) as another morally-challenged congressman who may be complicit in dark doings. Although he is a villain, he is a villain with a Christian heart and sensitively objects to the Lord’s name being taken in vain. In case you don’t see the theme, the villains in the movie are people who self-identify as veterans and Christians, as in this quotation from Secretary Napolitano’s report which warns in dire terms:

“Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”

It is difficult to determine whether the movie or the Napolitano report is more dishonest. First of all, it is illegal immigration that conservatives are opposed to, a distinction with a very real difference. Secondly, it is alarming that a government would, to quote the Napolitano report, portray “opposition to abortion” as “rightwing extremism,” a fact which cannot be not lost on the Catholic Church and its sixty nine million members who are both red-state and blue-state voters. In any case, the movie agrees that Christians are, in the words of the Napolitano report, “hate-oriented.”

Indeed, the two are so similar in language that one could make a far more plausible movie of the collusion between elements in the government and in the media conspiring to demonize certain social groups which would be far nearer to the truth than the paranoia evinced in “State of Play.” The movie recognizes its own absurdity when the publisher dismisses McAffrey’s (Crowe) accusations: “Corporate conspiracy at the highest levels [of government]? In all my years on the job I’ve only seen it on TV.” And now some of us have seen it on the screen.

“State of Play” labors mightily to establish its liberal and multi-cultural iconography. The opening scene shows a black man on the run who is murdered by the white army veteran at the conclusion of a frantic dash. Furthermore, all the sympathetic supporting roles are staffed by either African-Americans (the guard, the mortuary assistant, the detective, and the assistant editor), women (the publisher, the co-star, the aggrieved wife), or gay men. At key moments in the film, the camera lingers on the faces of either women or African-Americans and, to be sure all the minorities have an opportunity to be nearly killed, a small group of friendly Asians are shot at by the crazed former Army veteran.

Additionally, there is a prolonged discussion which conspicuously frames a poster of an angry-looking Ronald Reagan on the right side of a wall, while on the left side of the wall is displayed a poster with (I think) an angry-looking Hugo Chavez. A further supporting graphic cameo is put in by the magic word “Tolerance,” and did I mention that the movie’s villains are all white men?

The movie’s plot gradually reveals that the mercenary corporation, Point Corp., is corrupting government legislators for lucrative contracts. The ghost of Katrina is resurrected, and ominous warnings are repeated that the objective is to “privatize” security, as in, “rightwing” militias, for instance. The movie repeats numerous times how “mercenary” corporations, like Point Corp., are “the biggest beneficiaries of Department of Defense funding, as in the Iraq War.”

The most disturbing aspect of the movie is how it models collusion between government employees and the media in order to accomplish the media’s purpose. For example, McAffrey (Crowe) blackmails a man by threatening to get him killed if he doesn’t co-operate: “The paper can slant this any way they want to. The more you talk, the more you give in, the more protected you are.” The power of the media to destroy reputations, and even lives, is made explicit and justified by the authority of the former pot-smoking, adulterous journalist who lies and breaks laws because he is a noble crusader. His lack of professional ethics is all the more amusing as the movie attempts to satirize bloggers. Yet it is the blogger who has the professional scruples that the journalist lacks.

The movie’s projection of conspiratorial and criminal guilt onto conservatives is both classic and self-refuting. At one point McAffrey says: “It’s a smear campaign. That’s what these companies do.” But it is not conservative companies who “smear” their political opponents: just ask Sarah Palin or the half million people who protested at the Tea Parties in the past week who were smeared with disgusting sexual references by Anderson Cooper (CNN), Rachel Maddow (MSNBC), Andrew Sullivan (The Atlantic), and David Shuster (MSNBC). And it is not conservative government employees who betray state secrets such as the release of top-secret files by the N.Y. Times detailing how the NSA tracked the phone calls and banking practices of Al Qaeda.

As a political thriller, “State of Play” is an average film which will probably be relegated to an early DVD release. As a dishonest mediator of the time in which we live, it is a movie whose deceptions those who come after us will be unable to recognize or be harmed by. However, let it not be said of us that we “know how to interpret the appearance of the sky” but that we “cannot interpret the signs of the times.” The movie is what literary theorists call a “false signifier.” In any event, my advice is to let this lie, lie alone.

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—I think the movie was a good movie, overall. Yes, there was some cussing and talk of relationships, however, not much, and you saw nothing. …I would encourage people to see it. Good well-rounded, suspenseful movie with good actors.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Aron, age 24 (USA)
Positive—This was an entertaining movie. Interesting plot, and it had some twists and turns which was nice, considering the predictability of most Hollywood fare. There were references to adultery, but nothing was shown, and it was not portrayed as being a good thing at all. In my opinion, the movie portrayed adultery as responsible for devastating a marriage and a friendship, to the point that continuing these relationships was very difficult. It was suspenseful, there was character development, and the acting and screenplay were very good. I would recommend this movie for an entertaining night in.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Nicole, age 24 (USA)
Positive—My husband and I really enjoyed this movie. We rented it, so maybe we would’ve been bored sitting in the theater. We thought it was a good suspenseful, interesting movie. It earned it’s rating with language, so if swearing bothers you, then this movie is not a good choice. The language is not excessive. I did not get the impression the movie condoned adultery. It had a lot of themes, friendship, troubled marriage, integrity. I thought Russell Crowe’s character’s choice at the end to report his friend to the authorities showed a lot of courage, and I appreciated his comment at the end confronting Ben Affleck’s choices. I also appreciated his refusal when Affleck’s wife was approaching him, and his ultimate support of the marriage (it was confusing, just how long ago their affair happened). I didn’t get the impression it was slamming the military. I guess I just wrote off this story as fiction, and left it at that. I would watch it again and plan on recommending it to my parents.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—jen, age 33 (USA)
Neutral—Unlike your reviewer, after watching this movie I did not leave it thinking that it was an attack on the military, etc. Frankly, I was surprised that his review emphasized that aspect so much. Perhaps his background and experience influenced the paradigm through which he viewed the film.

I appreciated the tensions, that were highlighted throughout, between friendship and truth. This is often an issue for us all, and I thought the movie did a good job of communicating that dynamic. Solomon’s words that “he who rebukes… will afterward find more favor than he who flatters…” (Proverbs 28:23) comes to mind. And, I appreciated that the movie did not portray loyalty in relationships as preferable to the pursuit of truth.

Russell Crowe was especially excellent in portraying the investigative reporter.

There is graphic violence, as well as a number of profanities and vulgarities (e.g., Crowe’s boss used far too many vulgarities and profanities for my own taste.), and thus I cannot recommend this movie for children or even younger adults. However, in terms of tension and plot twists, I think it does a good job—it certainly kept my attention throughout in seeking to ascertain who was behind the evil actions portrayed in the movie and I may possibly watch it again with my wife. I can thus recommend it to mature adults, as it drew atttention to relationships, truth and even courage as well as simpy providing some good escapism in a tense thriller.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Paul, age 60 (USA)
Neutral—I frankly did not pick up on the political innuendos that your reviewer emphasizes. I viewed this movie as a crime thriller, with an intense newspaper reporter on the hunt for the killer. I thought the story was ultimately lame. I found myself bored many times, with people in the audience yawning also. However, it was two hours of escapist entertainment, with Russell Crowe performing well. In light of the information provided by your reviewer, I have to give this a neutral opinion. Interesting that secular reviews of this film are very favorable, suggesting that the inherent political undertones do well with people who don’t have Christian values.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Halyna Barannik, age 63 (USA)
Positive—I was surprised when I read your review of this film and wondered if we both watched the same movie. I’m not sure if the fact that I’m not American caused me to have blinders on, but I simply saw a thriller set in today’s world. It was larger than life, like all good stories, and had links to current events. I enjoyed it because I thought the pace was good and the actors did a good job. It was interesting. I think your review is an over reaction which gives the movie way more credence than it deserves, and I thought your reference to two of the actors being overweight was unnecessary.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Lyn, age 48 (Australia)
Negative—Don’t get me wrong—this is a good movie. It held our attention throughout and kept us on the edge of our seats—which, of course, makes it the most dangerous kind of propaganda for the secular left. My wife and I are getting tired of seeing Hollywood make villains out of the “good guys,” while holding nearly every fringe and perverse element of this increasingly ignorant, dependent society in highest esteem. Why can’t anyone make a film depicting people living the way we should, treating people the way they should be treated? My wife and I are increasingly glad we’re “apparently out of touch.” We would not recommend this film for anyone.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Berford, age 56 (USA)
Negative—“State of Play” should have been a really long TV show. It was entertaining… but so is watching “Sesame Street,” so that does not say much. This movie was very offensive to me because adultery and cheating is woven in and out and in and out and in and out of this movie. First, it appears that the producer wanted to take the message that cheating on your spouse isn’t worth it but then… in the middle of the movie it only glorifies it.

The movie wrapped up terribily. It’s kind of like watching a thriller movie and you’re screaming at the screen "NO DON’t DO THAT DONT GO IN THERE>>> THE MONSTER IS RIGHT INSIDE." Well, it was like "NO THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A GOOD MOVIE DONT DO THIS TO ME AHHHH NOOOO."

To wrap things up, at the end of the movie adultery is again glorified and accepted as normal… which it is … for the world… for me and the Bible, it’s disgusting.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Luke, age 19 (USA)
Comments from young people


Comments from non-viewers
I haven’t seen this film, so my ratings are nul, but I would like to thank the reviewer for an in depth comparison between the official reports that came out and this film. We as viewers often overlook the details like this in a film, and, as a member of the USAF reserves, I can say that I would have seen this film and been greatly disappointed had it not been for the reviewers analysis. Thank you.
—Ethan Rodgers, age 20 (USA)
I just wanted to say how much I appreciate Michael for His reviews. It amazes me how some viewer comments I’ve seen give personal attacks to the reviews. I think some people forget this is “Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.” These movies are viewed from a CHRIST-IAN world view. I don’t want some hottie tottie Hollywood quote “professional” review. (which by the way, usually says a movie is great and wins all kinds of awards when it is laced with all kinds of negative things) I want to know what my fellow brothers and sisters think. I think the viewers need to give their feedback on what they think of the movie but not for a personal attack on the movie reviewer.
—Whendy, age 35 (USA)