If you’re a writer, you need to see State of Play. It’s a modern-day white-knuckler about getting the story the old-fashioned way.

Congressman Steven Collins (Ben Affleck) is either brave enough or dumb enough to go after PointCorp, a Blackwater-style company with its own military whose international presence is just a drop in the bucket compared to their domestic aspirations.

Collins has the moral high ground until he loses it — spectacularly and publicly — upon the not-so-mysterious death of his primary research assistant, Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer). When it’s quickly revealed that many of the briefs Sonia was studying were the kind that Congressman Collins wore under his pants, his battle against PointCorp takes a staggering blow and his already deteriorating marriage with his wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn), is ruined once and for all.

The congressman’s old college roommate, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), works for the Washington Globe as one of the last of the truly old-school reporters. He follows leads with his nose, takes notes with paper and pen, and goes directly to the source of the story even when it gets him in trouble.

This time, it might get him killed.

Who killed Sonia Baker? And why? PointCorp stands to lose tens of billions of dollars — and a lot more — if Congressman Collins defeats their latest round of lobbies.

Cal gets the upper hand on some game-changing evidence, but lots of questions above and beyond his friendship with Steven and Anne Collins come into play. Questions of timing. Questions of morality. Questions of trust. But in the end, it’s all about the truth.

Cal reluctantly teams up with Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), the paper’s hot-shot online political blogger who represents a kind of journalism that Cal can’t stand. As Cal and Della beat deadlines and death threats, nothing can prepare them for what’s really going on in the darkest corners of the all-too-human hearts — both noble and not — on Capitol Hill.

State of Play has so many twists and turns that the less said about it the better.

So I’ll just say lots of things about the cast.

Russell Crowe is, as always, a towering inferno of talent and presence.

Affleck dials down his usual charm to play a man struggling with his own mistakes and how they might hurt his ability to truly bring about what’s right. While you won’t feel sorry for him for cheating on his wife, you’ll cheer on his attempts to hold PointCorp accountable for its wrongs both home and abroad. Bits of his trademark humor do come through in his chemistry with Crowe; you really get the sense that these guys were old college roommates who’ve gone on different paths but still remember where they came from.

Rachel McAdams is lovely, determined, and plucky as Della — the blogger has to grow up fast in the field, and McAdams superbly holds her own not just against Crowe but also against Helen Mirren, who plays the paper’s editor like a shark and walks away with many of the film’s most memorable moments and lines.

And of course there’s Jason Bateman as a sleazy P.R. guy who’s involved in it all, too. His performance is something like an evil Michael Bluth who’s been possessed by Pepper Brooks from Dodgeball. Is there anything this guy can’t do?

And Jeff Daniels as a hypocritical, holier-than-thou senator.

And Robin Wright is even prettier now than she was in The Princess Bride.

And I’m going to stop talking about the movie now, because, like I said, you’re better off knowing as little as possible when you see it.

So … see it. It’s awesome not just as a thriller but as a commentary on what’s happening to the newspaper industry and the threatened vitality of old-school reporting.