Speaking Truth to Power

With the increased political and economic crises plaguing our country, how will filmmakers respond?  Will we have an over-indulgence of diversions or will we have films that speak truth to power, challenging the structures that cause or contribute to the crises that plague our communities?  The recent release, State of Play has characters who speak truth to power, and as a film itself, does so as well.

State of Play is a political thriller that traces two journalists’ report of a seemingly random murder that leads to corruption in the highest offices of government.  Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is a grungy, traditional journalist who just happens to be friends with Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), the U.S. Senator whose aide/mistress is murdered on the D.C. subway.  Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) is an on-line journalist/blogger whose ability to dish out dirt might just help Cal uncover the truth.

Given that the main antagonists are a private defense corporation called PowerCorp who are taking over government contracts one-by-one, it might be easy to sit there and scream, “Halliburton!  Halliburton!”  Yet the filmmakers seem to be just as concerned, or more so, with the state of news reporting in contemporary society than the government corruption that is so often reported.  Claudia Puig of USA Today, writes, “[The film] may actually have more to say about the beleaguered state of print journalism than about governmental shenanigans.”  Yet the two are not mutually exlcusive.  In fact, the films inclusion of Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren), Cal and Della’s editor who feels financial pressure from the paper’s new owners, reveals that how the news is reported can either contribute to or challenge the corruption that occurs in society.

While the debates over the relevance of blogs and social networking are far from over, State of Play, thankfully, is not a single-minded praise of traditional, print journalism.  While it’s message of the necessity of good reporting is a bit heavy-handed, it does speak truth to power, the truth of the need for both print and digital journalism to the power of us, the news consuming audience. The film does not provide us with a straightforward protagonist in Cal either.  He has conflicting interests in Stephen’s case that often interfere with his ability to “objectively” analyze and report the story.  However, he still has the wisdom to speak the truth to his powerful friend.

State of Play (127 mins.) is rated PG-13 for language and violence and is in theaters everywhere.