A young drug-addicted man is killed by a mysterious man and a pizza delivery man who was witness of said assassination is left into a coma. Then, a woman named Sonia Baker is thrown into the subway rails who happened to work for congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) on his investigation for the private weapon industry PointCorp and causes a mass media scandal as she was his lover. Collins seeks for help to his old college roomate Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), an old school journalist for the Washington Globe, to uncover the mystery of Sonia's killing while Cal deals with another investigation and teaching newcomer Della Frye (Rachel McAdams).
Though State of Play has much in common with investigative thrillers like All the President's Men, the story revolves around the death of print news at the hand of digital media.
This film contains examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The film simplifies most of the plot elements in the BBC miniseries and removes some of the supporting cast's character motivations, but adds a layer of topical subtext (the death of traditional media) and tightens up the script so it's more fast-paced.
- Big Bad Friend: Collins manipulated his former army companion Bingham at first to spy Sonia, but as the soldier was mentally unstable, he killed her. Then Collins looked for help to his journalist friend Cal to get away clean from suspicion.
- Break the Cutie: Della gets shocked when she witnesses the assassination of Sando, the pizza delivery guy at the hospital, showing her some of the dangers of going deep into investigation.
- Conspiracy Thriller: It involves corrupt politicians, a private military industry who wants to monopolize the weapon industry, the assassination of a congressman's lover, journalists investigating murders...
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The PointCorp bosses who want to monopolize the weapons industry.
- Culture Clash: Cal's old-school form of journalistic integrity clashes with Della's adherence to new media and her blog.
- Current Events Blog: Della runs one of these in the film, although it's more gossip and rumor than anything else.
- Da Editor: Cameron Lynne (similar to the UK series' Cameron Foster character), except it's played by a woman - Helen Mirren.
- Debate and Switch
- Gay Best Friend: Dominic Foy, while still bisexual, was the mannered friend to Sonia Baker.
- Going for the Big Scoop: It almost gets Cal killed.
- Jerkass: George Fergus, while not the main villain and hates the media with a reason, is quite foul mouthed and boasts that he recommended Sonia to Collins as her parents were friends of his and a great family example for the country... and does not remember the mother's given name.
- Intrepid Reporter: Both Cal and Della.
- MegaCorp: The appropiately named PointCorp, a private industry founded by ex-militars that pretends to monopolize the weapon industry in the USA and the reason Collins want to stop them and leads to the events of the film.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The previews would have you believe that Collins' assistant is shot as she walks through a parking garage. In actuality, she is pushed off a subway platform by an unknown assailant.
- New Media Are Evil: Cal is constantly at odds with his editor over having to work with a blogger, as opposed to a more experienced political reporter.
- No Party Given: Collins's political affiliation is never mentioned.
- Psycho for Hire: Robert Bingham was hired by Collins to spy on Sonia Baker, but Bingham was so mentally unstable that he killed her for working for PointCorp, which Bingham hated very much.
- Puppy-Dog Eyes: When Della begs Cameron to be kept on the story, Cameron snaps at her, "Oh, don't look at me with those dewy cub reporter eyes. It's nauseating!"
- Shout-Out: There is a half-hidden photograph of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story) on the wall of McCaffrey's cubicle.
- Sociopathic Soldier: Robert Bingham, a mentally jarred soldier and a former army mate to Stephen Collins whom he owed a debt, who is willing to kill for his country and mercilessly kills people.
- Using You All Along: What happens when Cal learns Collins used a former Army buddy to keep tabs on the woman he was having an illicit affair with. When the soldier learned that Collins' secret lover was working for a company he resented, he killed her and framed the congressman.