Newspapermen occupy that movie middle ground between detectives and action heroes. They dig up clues, but the clues are hard-won, based on experience and the building up of contacts and sources. The clues are rarely left at the scene of the crime. Newspapermen rarely get into danger, but when they do it's not something they're really prepared or trained for. Coming face-to-face with a deadly killer, Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) can barely make eye contact. Cal doesn't fight or outwit the bad guy; he just runs and hides. It's not important that he try to be a hero. It's more important that he survive to write the story.

Of course, real reporters don't get to solve murders and uncover international corporate conspiracies every day, and that's where Hollywood comes in. The new film State of Play is based on a six-hour BBC mini-series from 2003. I haven't seen the original, but I'd bet that it's much distilled and sped up, and no one is going to argue that the new film is any kind of improvement. But taken on its own, it's probably the best newspaper/journalism movie in years -- perhaps since Shattered Glass (2003) -- even if it falls far short of the purity of All the President's Men (1976). It's also the first movie of its kind to address the inherent feud between sturdy, superior, old-fashioned print reporting, and reckless, inexperienced, sloppy blogging. (Guess which side the movie is on?)