State of Play (Movie Review)

State of Play

Fans of BBC television series' have a justified right to be afraid of American adaptations of their intellectual properties, whether it be on the silver or the small screen. After all, I largely find that the Brits have an exceptional eye for detail and a sense of pride with most of their products while Americans are content to just take flashy titles and a half dozen soundbytes and churn out a comparatively inferior product (compare and contrast an episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares [British] vs. Kitchen Nightmares [American] if you need proof). State of Play is an American screen adaptation of a British television serial and might cause some discomfort for fans of the film's progenitor. But thanks to a well-crafted story and a certain British star, the film dually manages to maintain the lustre of its source, and pique outside interest in it.

State of Play follows the staff and investigative reporters at the Washington Globe newspaper as they pursue a story centring on a hotshot United States congressman (Ben Affleck) and a young member of his staff named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) who had recently died under strange circumstances. The congressmen's situation in the ensuing media firestorm is made stickier by the his connections with PointCorp., a military company interested in privatizing the country's security for massive profits that he may or may not be involved with. Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is an old hand at the Post who is leading his paper's investigation, and he reluctantly teams up with a recently hired na´ve and spunky web-writer named Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to get the job done.

What immediately makes State of Play stand out from the crowd is its pedigree. Apparently, the film is adapted from a BBC television series that I've had no idea existed prior to this film and will not pretend to be familiar with for the sake of this review (beyond a Wikipedia search). What matters is that the original series was well received critically and therefore means that the film has a glossy reputation to live up to, albeit indirectly. Next to that connection which many probably won't concern themselves with is the cast, and by that I mean Helen Mirren as Editor Cameron Lynne for the Washington Globe. Helen Mirren is excellent, and it's unfortunate that the filmmakers don't quite understand this because the greatest sin State of Play commits is underwriting her character. Rachel McAdams and Russell Crowe are great fits for idealistic yet inexperienced and cynical yet veteran writers respectively, and it truly is refreshing to see Jason Bateman play a character that isn't a mere transplantation of Michael Bluth, but it all becomes irrelevant the moment you successfully commission Helen Mirren to appear on screen, even it's only for 25% of the running time.

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Russell Crowe tries to figure out what "State of Play" means (I have no idea myself)

Sadly, despite an excellent cast and an engaging script, there are two major flaws that mar an otherwise great bit of intellectual entertainment. The first and more evident stumble is the casting of Ben Affleck as Rep. Stephen Collins. While it's clear that Affleck has the sort of image the filmmakers were looking for, the sort that immediately resonates "young go-getting rising star politician," it eventually becomes rather plastic and quite tiresome. The character could've worked and indeed he is very central to the plot, but scaling back his screen time and painting him as a more inscrutable and enigmatic politician would've not only made his appearances more tolerable, but also given the other main characters more time to evolve and manoeuvre.

The second major fault is far more tragic because it happens just as the film is wrapping up, which means that discussing it ultimately amounts to revealing spoilers. Without giving too much away, the ending is essentially an exercise in having just one plot twist too many. It's like a sports team advancing on an open goal with seconds left on the clock, and instead of keeping with the play that would certainly guarantee them an easy point and sure victory, they decide to change it up at the last minute and end up damn near blowing it altogether. The final scenes don't ruin the film, and in fact some people might enjoy the relentless deception (these being the people with the memory of a goldfish who probably forget the slight immediately after it's occurred), but it effectively turns the film on its head and marches in a direction that hasn't seriously been alluded to otherwise. Alas, this is the nature of the dramatic thriller, and criticizing a mystery for being mysterious is hardly a sound complaint.

Though when the dust settles, State of Play is a cut above the rest of its ilk, if only because of the talent carrying it. While it does occasionally feel a bit bland and listless thanks to the heavy dialogue that serves more to drive the plot rather than develop the characters, it's fortunate that the one exceptional strength is strong enough to carry the other struggling elements. An extra twenty minutes to flesh everything out would've not only been necessary; it would've been welcome.

Don't particularly care for the generalisations in the first paragraph. Any prolonged exposure to British programming would make your comments about a sense of pride and attention to detail laughable.

Good review, but I'm suprised you didn't mention the location change from the original's London to Washington. And while I'm not going to give the entire review a grammatical run-down...

Rachel McAdams and Russell Crowe are great fits for idealistic yet inexperienced and cynical yet veteran writers respectively

Struck me as needing some work. Try reading it aloud, it doesn't flow well. But with a bit of tweaking you could have a nice bit of parallel structure there.

Looking forward to seeing the film, it sounds like a good smart thriller.

pigeon_of_doom:

Looking forward to seeing the film, it sounds like a good smart thriller.

I thought it was funny that you missed a comma in there. Good smart. :P

Ghostwise:

I thought it was funny that you missed a comma in there. Good smart. :P

Yeah, I accidentally slipped into Newspeak.

pigeon_of_doom:
Don't particularly care for the generalisations in the first paragraph. Any prolonged exposure to British programming would make your comments about a sense of pride and attention to detail laughable.

I hate diving headlong into a review and much prefer to ease my way into it, which is why I prefer to open with a generalization or something only tangentially related to what I'm going to end up talking about. It's just my personal preference, really. Regarding my comments about British programming, my point is that I see it as generally being better than its American counterparts.

Eh... I don't really know what I was thinking with that introduction. I actually wrote the middle and end of the review first, and then sat around for twenty minutes thinking about how I should kick the whole thing off.

Maet:
Regarding my comments about British programming, my point is that I see it as generally being better than its American counterparts.

Eh... I don't really know what I was thinking with that introduction. I actually wrote the middle and end of the review first, and then sat around for twenty minutes thinking about how I should kick the whole thing off.

Really? I generally see American TV as being better than ours. Especially with drama, as there have been no exemplary shows over the last few years that I've seen. Nothings generated the buzz that some of the HBO shows, Dexter, and House amongst others have. I suppose we are both shielded from most of the crap from the countries we don't live in fortunately, but you seemed to express a blinkered view in your introduction.

I'm terrible at writing introductions, and conclusions. I'm only ok at writing everything in-between. However, I think your way is a good method to lead into a review, and mentioning the source material is a good way to do it, I just think you overestimated the range of British TV you've been exposed to.

pigeon_of_doom:

Maet:
Regarding my comments about British programming, my point is that I see it as generally being better than its American counterparts.

Eh... I don't really know what I was thinking with that introduction. I actually wrote the middle and end of the review first, and then sat around for twenty minutes thinking about how I should kick the whole thing off.

Really? I generally see American TV as being better than ours. Especially with drama, as there have been no exemplary shows over the last few years that I've seen. Nothings generated the buzz that some of the HBO shows, Dexter, and House amongst others have. I suppose we are both shielded from most of the crap from the countries we don't live in fortunately, but you seemed to express a blinkered view in your introduction.

I'm terrible at writing introductions, and conclusions. I'm only ok at writing everything in-between. However, I think your way is a good method to lead into a review, and mentioning the source material is a good way to do it, I just think you overestimated the range of British TV you've been exposed to.

It don't matter where its from, good TV is good TV. I like House and Top Gear.

Nice review, but you shouldn't criticize the movie for not having Helen Mirren on as much as you wanted.

 

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