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State of Play: Worthy Newspaper Film

I have always had a love/hate relationship with newspaper movies.

And by "always" I mean the 15 years since I decided I wanted to be in the news biz and started paying attention to how it was portrayed...by practitioners and by Hollywood.

His Girl Friday? Great movie. Well acted and funny as hell.

Absence of Malice? Brilliant in how it gives the reporter a sense of humanity as she struggles with the ethics of getting too close to a story subject.

The Paper? Funny, but heroic, about a newspaper editor struggling to decide whether to stay at his gritty tabloid or take a job with the more prestigious paper across town.

All the President's Men? C'mon.

I could go on with the good ones. But then there's stuff like Never Been Kissed, starring Drew Barrymore as a school-marmish copy editor with her own office and personal assistant.

Trust me when I tell you that on the planet Earth, the only non-management copy editors with their own offices and personal assistants are those whose parents own the newspaper where they work.

And then there's I Love Trouble. I thought the chemistry between Nick Nolte, a star columnist for a Chicago paper, and Julia Roberts, a reporter for a rival paper, was great. But the newsroom scenes, the jargon, etc., was all really over the top.

So when I was asked to attend a screening of State of Play, a new film about a star reporter (Russell Crowe), a congressman (Ben Affleck), a bunch of murders, several parallel investigations, etc., I was initially reluctant. How good could a film about newspapers be, when the guy playing the star reporter sometimes seems to hate reporters in real life?

But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The plot was good, the twists kept me focused on the film. And Russell Crowe played a good reporter.

And much of the newsroom chatter was reasonably accurate. At one point during the screening I whispered to the old guy next to me "We don't talk like that in newsrooms." He leaned toward me and replied "Son, I may have retired from the news business before you born. But yes we do!"

There were a few scenes that made me cringe and say no way that would happen at a real paper. Helen Mirren was a little over the top in her portrayal of the fictional Washington Globe's executive editor, and Rachel McAdams played the young, smug blogger to perfection. But overall the film was good. I wrote Tuesday night after seeing State of Play that one day after it grows on me, I might even consider it All the King's Men 2.0, or at least a very good effort.

That's all I'll say about State of Play, 'cause I don't want to step on the toes of one of the Miami Herald's very capable film critics who reviewed the movie.

I will say I find it ironic though, that my efforts to interview State of Play screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Tony Gilroy were welcomed but later rebuffed because someone among the several layers of publicists for Universal Pictures didn't think either man had time to participate in yet another...newspaper article.

A parting question: Are newspapers being featured prominently in film these days (State of Play, The Soloist) because Hollywood thinks consumers are interested in seeing dramatizations of fading glory, or are they being featured as curiosities, hip relics - sort of the way classic car enthusiasts show off their 50-year-old rides and rock stars strut in their 20-year-old thrift-store-bought clothes?

BTW, follow me at http://twitter.com/jamesburnett.


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/clicks over to her dusty Netflix page and adds 4 titles to the queue.

ɔıuʎɔıʇsɐɔɹɐs ǝɥʇ

Hmmm, I hadn't noticed. It does seem that there are a lot of films about sarcastic people though.


Just so you know I read this and didn't have even a half-intelligent comment.


I saw this movie over the weekend and I loved it. Thanks for the heads up, I most likely wouldn't have seen if had I not read your blog.



... and then I "reviewed" it myself and linked to your blog.

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