Based on the eponymous BBC TV series by Paul Abbott, Kevin Macdonald’s ‘State of Play’ is a political thriller of immense intrigue. Led by Hollywood A-listers Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright, and Helen Mirren, the story unfolds a political whodunit possibly tied to an evil corporation. But the reality turns out to be something else altogether. By the end of the film, the engagement of the corporation cannot be overlooked, but the story probes deeper into human nature and human follies by unmasking lies that have seemingly far-reaching implications for American society as a whole.
Somebody gets his hands dirty despite looking the part of the pawn in the game, and if you have seen the film in its entirety, you already know the man of the hour. However, some aspects of the intricate plot need to be refigured, and if you have come for an explanation concerning the ending, let us walk you through it. SPOILERS AHEAD.
State of Play Plot Synopsis
The film begins with a young man running across a trafficked street. As the camera follows him, he gives the impression of being chased. Not long after, he is killed by a mysterious hitman, who then shoots a witness who was attempting to cycle away. In a press conference, the distressed Congressman Stephen Collins divulges about the death of Sonia Baker, one of the researchers on his team. His tears say that something was going on between him and his researcher, and journalists at the office of the reputed newspaper the Washington Globe are quick to sense a scandal.
Cal McAffrey (Crowe) is a veteran investigative reporter at the Globe, who has connections in the legal system far and wide. He also occasionally rubs shoulders with Congressman Collins. A TV report breaks the news of Stephen and Sonia’s affair, and Stephen visits Cal for damage control. Stephen thinks that the murder is tied to his smearing of private military supplier PointCorp’s name, and Cal is led to think that a bigger international conspiracy is at play. On the other side, the young Washington Globe blogger Della Frye picks up the scandal and gets to know about Cal’s amicable relation with the Collins.
At the request of Editor-in-Chief Cameron Lynne, they pair to chase the story, both with their separate angles in mind. The story gets lost in a vortex of lies, hypocrisy, and manipulation, unearthing bitter truths about the media, capitalism, politics, and Homeland security. But the finality of the film sees the hero’s epiphany following an incongruous comment made by a key player in the drama. The truth is perhaps much bigger than what it seems to be on the surface, but that does not justify the atrocities committed by a sleight of hand of Congressman Collins.
State of Play Ending: Why Did Congressman Collins Get Sonia Baker Killed?
Ben Affleck is known to portray ambiguous roles, and Congressman Stephen Collins is a role seemingly cut out for Affleck’s dubious film persona. In the beginning moments of the film, government employee Sonia Baker is spotted at the metro before getting mysteriously assassinated by an undisclosed assailant. An investigative whodunit follows, and the story seems to have been solved until a final revelation changes the narrative.
Stephen laments the death of his researcher Sonia Baker in front of a room full of reporters and officials. He leaves the conference in tears. The story of the illicit affair is devoured by TV media, and he comes knocking at the door of his personal friend and cunning investigative journalist, Cal McAffrey, to tell his side of the story. According to him, the security contractor conglomerate PointCorp is behind the murder.
According to Stephen, the murder was a hostile reply to his relentless struggle to whistleblow the unthinkable crimes committed by the evil corporation. By the end of the film, we get to know that it is Congressman Collin himself who commissioned the homicide. As suspicious as the character may have seen from the beginning, nothing would have prepared the viewer to anticipate him being the culprit in the web of political intrigue. However, in retrospection, Stephen has multiple motives behind the murder.
The love angle problematizes the case right from the beginning, and when we get to know from Sonia’s roommate about the $40,000 credit card bill that was recompensed by Collins, we know that something is clearly wrong, since Anne discloses that Stephen could not have that kind of money. In due time, we come to know that Sonia Baker was a double agent working for PointCorp, who was appointed to manipulate Stephen and get the insider data regarding the case against the corporation.
That puts Stephen’s operation in danger, but an ex-military man himself, how far can we believe in Stephen’s ostensible war against the private mercenaries? Later in the plot, Dominic drops the bomb about Sonia’s pregnancy, and despite the startling reaction from Stephen, who has a VIP ticket in the investigation, we are led to suspect that Stephen knew about the pregnancy beforehand, which worked as a catalyst for his decision. A reputable congressman himself, Collins chooses two insolvent foot-soldiers to carry out the operation: Bingham for the murder and Cal for the cover-up.
When Does Cal Realize the Involvement of His Friend in the Murder?
A persuasive investigative noir journalist pitted against a crooked system has not been a rare occurrence in Hollywood. From the 70s classic ‘All The President’s Men’ to David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac,’ we have seen multiple investigative journalists walking down the bureaucratic rabbit hole obsessing over a single case. Eccentric but sharp-edged snoop Cal McAffrey fits the description as he pursues the overarching story behind the murder of Sonia Baker. However, as Cal is closely related to the suspect’s family, there is a clear conflict of interest in his pursuit. While he is a seemingly trusted friend of Stephen, he is involved in a complicated relationship with Stephen’s wife, Anne.
However, even though he is a noir hero roaming in the grey areas of ethics, Cal is a journalist of the bygone era, characterized by a zeal to bring the truth out in the open at all costs. He even puts his life at stake in his trailing of the story when he pays a visit to the apartment of deceased Fred Summers. He is willing to suspend his disbelief only until he reveals an inconsistency in a statement made by Anne. Anne seems to know about the $26,000 paycheck that Sonia was receiving even if Cal did not tell her anything about it. It may be that Anne is involved in the conspiracy herself, but that is less likely.
The more probable line of thought indicates Stephen confiding in Anne about the sum. Cal realizes that he has been played like a fiddle by Congressman Collins despite their alleged past friendship. Cal goes to confront Stephen, who confesses to his crime after a short period of denial. When a tense and volatile Bingham tells Cal about a good soldier fighting for his friends, the irony of Cal and Stephen’s seeming friendship becomes apparent to the audience. As he breaks the keyboard back in the Globe office, we experience his remorse which stems from his personal involvement in the story.
Who is Robert Bingham? Is He Dead?
At the beginning of the film, Deshaun Stagg and Vernon Sando are shot. Deshaun dies on the spot, while Sando is killed later in the hospital by a sniper. In a later development, Mandi, the feral girl who lived with Deshaun, is killed. But before her death, Mandi reaches out to Cal to give a tip. We sense that while Vernon Sando was an unfortunate martyr of the crime, the other two were intentionally killed off. Mandi tells Cal that Deshaun stole a briefcase from the guy who was tailing Sonia, and Cal comes to the conclusion that the murders are related.
Della gets the face of the guy from security footage, and Cal has a frontal encounter with the person while pursuing a lead. In the final moments, we come to know that Robert Bingham is an army veteran whose life was saved by Collins. It is unclear if he is related to PointCorp, but working under the command of Collins, he seems like a mercenary himself. A volatile ex-army man, he becomes the perfect pawn in the sinister plot laid by Collins and is shot down by the police at the end of the film.
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