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Russell Crowe's 'State of Play' brings newspapers back to life

Helen Mirren and Russell Crowe in "State of Play"
Oscar-winners Helen Mirren and Russell Crowe star in the journalistic drama "State of Play."

Woodward and Bernstein are back.

With newspapers across the country folding at an alarming rate, Russell Crowe's latest film, "State of Play," forces viewers to see the importance of these publications in a culture where they are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Crowe and his sidekick Rachel McAdams have taken up the challenge of filling the shoes of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman from "All the President's Men," and the duo resuscitates the dying print news industry in the process.

In "State," Crowe plays Cal McAffery, a hard-nosed print journalist for the Washington Globe with years of newspaper experience. McAdams portrays Della Frye, a young writer with little experience who blogs about political news for the Globe's Web site. The two are forced to work together when a controversy surrounding the death of an aide to congressman Stephen Collins, portrayed passionately by Ben Affleck, captivates media attention around the nation's capital.

McAffery, who normally covers the police and crime beat for the Globe, is propelled into covering the political controversy because of his friendship with Collins, who was his college roommate. Crowe teaches McAdams the ropes of in-depth reporting while they investigate Collins, his aide's death and the connection between the two and a military personnel contract organization named Point Corp.

Mixed in with this intriguing plot and tightly-written script is a commentary on the newspaper industry. The title of the film itself introduces this concept, as the "State of Play" within the world of newspapers is changing the way journalists are able to gather and report news. McAffery and Frye represent the polar opposites within the world of print news, as Crowe's character is dedicated to arduous fact-checking and won't print the story until it is fully ready and verified and McAdams is focused on getting the story – even if it's incomplete – first, reflecting the fast-paced nature of web writing. The middle ground between these two extremes is encapsulated in the brilliantly written and flawlessly acted character Cameron Lynne, the editor of the Globe, played by Oscar-winner Helen Mirren. Lynne is facing pressure from the newspaper's ownership to generate sales and deliver breaking news regardless of its accuracy, even though she empathizes with McAffery's ardent desire to print the unassailable truth.

As difficult as it is to make an informed statement on a current topic such as impact of the economy on media integrity, "State" succeeds with a flourish that makes it the top film of 2008 to date. The craftsmanship and dedication which went into writing the script is matched by the creativity and skill of the film's cinematography, which fits the mood of both the dramatic and the chilling moments of "State." And that's not even mentioning the caliber of the movie's cast.

"State of Play" isn't just star-studded, it's bursting at the seams with uncompromisingly dedicated actors, from Crowe and Mirren to Jeff Daniels and Jason Bateman. Each veteran brings their unique skillset to their respective roles, and each big-named star disappears completely into the character they are portraying, even (and especially) Crowe. This is a tribute to both the actors and the impeccable directing of Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland"), who managed to craft a compelling, bold film which is a triumph within the medium and for its message.

Crowe, McAdams and Co. may not have taken down Richard Nixon, but they have done Woodward and Bernstein proud by taking on an equally daunting challenge: arguing for the necessity and import of newspapers in a society which is allowing them to die.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.