A basic rule of journalism is that you can't be friends with the people you write about. So it's a pickle for Cal McAffrey (Crowe, all aces here), a veteran crime reporter at a Washington, D.C., paper, when he begins uncovering the ever more complicated machinations behind the murder of an attractive young woman who was sleeping with her boss, a married congressman. The problem: The congressman, Stephen Collins (a solid Affleck), was McAffrey's college roommate and is still a good, close friend.
Deftly adapted and Americanized from a six-hour 2003 BBC TV miniseries of the same name, State of Play is a sizzling thriller. The characters have snap, the plot is multilayered, and the acting is top-notch. Giving the movie an extra kick—and plenty of 2009 relevancy—is the rivalry between McAffrey, an old-school print guy, and an ambitious young blogger (McAdams) at the paper who helps him work the story. As McAffrey's hard-nosed editor (Mirren, who delivers the film's funniest lines with ferocious brio) puts it, "She's hungry, she's cheap, and she turns out copy every hour." Play makes it clear that McAffrey still has plenty to teach his digital colleague, beginning with the importance of always carrying a pen.