State Of Play


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

State Of Play
"A taut thriller that is frequently involving and rarely less than gripping."

For anyone who watched the BBC’s widely-acclaimed six-part drama State Of Play, the rumours of a remake must have been about as welcome as tabloid-strewn scandal to a politician. With the British mini-series from Paul Abbott (yes, the man behind Shameless) boasting layered-scripting, unhurried characterisation and a measured-pace, you wouldn’t have been tarred as a bitter cynic for expecting the Hollywood version to minimise the plotting while dialing up the bangs.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case at all. Under the direction of up-and-comer Kevin Macdonald, we get a taut thriller that is frequently involving and rarely less than gripping. Having established himself with harrowing flicks Touching The Void and The Last King Of Scotland, Macdonald crafts an intense yarn where we feel the paranoia and shadowy-conspiracy facing our journalistic heroes. For those not sure what to expect, just imagine All The President’s Men only more accessible and without Bob Redford’s flared cords.

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Staying largely faithful to the source material, the narrative sees the chief researcher of Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) die under mysterious circumstances. Stumbling upon the story is Collins’ former college roommate and loose-canon reporter Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe), who makes connections to two recent shootings and a large corporate organisation. Under pressure from his editor (Helen Mirren) and paired with an ambitious young blogger (Rachel McAdams), Cal races to uncover the truth while trying to protect his old friend…

Of course, the most impressive aspect is how strong the plot is under the circumstances. Okay, so it occasionally feels a little rushed and it's undoubtedly broader than it’s 2003 predecessor, but it works as well as can be expected given that we get six episodes worth of plot condensed into a two-hour movie. As you’d expect, certain subplots aren’t allowed the same breathing room and the odd character gets marginalised (indeed, James McAvoy’s son-of-editor is completely removed) it never comes close to Americanised fluff.

Interestingly, though you’d have thought the cast’s main problem was living up to the Beeb’s ensemble, most pre-release chat surrounded the 11th hour departures of both Brad Pitt (who reportedly argued he and Macdonald didn’t “want to make the same film”) and Ed Norton. Stepping in for Brad, Crowe offers a return to form as long-haired schlubby burnout Cal, proving watchable in a different way to John Simm’s forerunner (amusingly stating in interview that his wife prefers Simm). As for Ed, Affleck fills in and once again proves he’s got game given the right material (Boiler Room anyone?).

Additionally, Mirren makes you wish she’d had more screen time by refusing to age beyond hotness, McAdams doesn’t put a foot wrong and the always-welcome Justin Bateman pops up for a bit. Elsewhere, Jeff Daniels reminds us he’s still about and you can’t help but notice the guy from the Orange ads (Brennan Brown for those interested).

It might not be as thought-provoking or fresh as the original, but State Of Play is still a very classy motion picture.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2009
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State Of Play packshot
An investigative reporter finds his loyalties conflicted when a story involving murder, blackmail and conspiracy centres on his old friend, now an up-and-coming Congressman.
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Read more State Of Play reviews:

Jeff Robson ***1/2
Richard Mellor ***1/2

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Michael Berresse, Harry Lennix, Josh Mostel, Michael Weston, Barry Shabaka Henley, Viola Davis, David Harbour, Sarah Lord

Year: 2009

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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