Our 10 Second Review: 8/10. A blistering thriller adapted from the BBC series. Affleck doesn't fit but Crowe is terrific. A gripping, intelligent film.
Our 90 Second Review:
State of Play is currently number one in the UK box office and deservedly so. Based on Paul Abbott's 2003 BBC mini series, the film has crossed the Atlantic to Washington where reporters at the fictional paper, The Washington Globe, uncover a huge political conspiracy. The film starts at full throttle and doesn't let up for two hours. There is heavy focus on the character development and the film is taught and tense throughout.
At the Little Theatre in Bath we were treated to a special screening of this hit adaptation followed by an intimate Q&A with director Kevin Macdonald. The Oscar winning director learnt his trade in documentary filmmaking and he admitted the freedom with a fictional source like this is different to many of his previous projects such as Touching The Void. Unlike a documentary where he is constantly trying to make it look like a film, here, Macdonald laughs, he feels he is constantly trying to make it look realistic, like a documentary.
The documentary style of handheld cameras works to the films advantage particularly in combination with the sharp script, fast editing and Alex Heffes' (Macdonald's regular) thumping score.
State of Play originally was a Brad Pitt film where he was to star alongside his Fightclub co-star Ed Norton, until Pitt decided he didn't like either of the final two scripts. The truth is that despite being a huge Pitt fan of late with his strong performances as Jesse James and Benjamin Button, I have to agree with director Kevin Macdonald that it actually all worked out rather well for the film. Macdonald was only days away before shooting when he flew off to Australia to meet Russell Crowe on his farm where within twelve hours petting cows, he convinced Russell to take the lead in this film as journalist, Cal McCaffrey. McCaffery is not the standard Hollywood lead, he is not always the hero and is sometimes seen scared for his life. This lead role wouldn't have worked for Pitt but Crowe shines as a slightly overweight, scruffy yet confident old school newspaper hack showing his best performance since The Insider. He has great chemistry without romantic involvement with Rachel McAdams as a young aspiring reporter, who also delivers a promising display.
After Pitt's departure, Ed Norton was subsequently changed for Ben Affleck. On first viewing Affleck doesn't quite fit as Crowe's old college buddy, but after a second watch, the casting does feel right due to Affleck's almost Kennedy like appearance, playing this Senator whose world starts crumbling around him. The rest of the cast is strong including a quirky Jason Bateman and Helen Mirren as the stern, no nonsense editor. Mirren occasionally overdoes her role, particularly the scene where McAdams defends her right to stay on the story, but according to director Macdonald, across the waters, Mirren is adored even more than here and you can see why.
Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto known for his work on films such as 21 Grams and Amores Perros shows his skill with some cleverly executed shots and visuals. One or two of the plot twists are set up slightly clumsily but there are some cracking set pieces with clear influence from Alan J. Pakula's films, especially All the President's Men, which Macdonald admitted gave him a lot of inspiration. Macdonald said the film was almost made as a love letter to the press who he feels are going to be missed as newspapers become a dying platform in the modern world, particularly in the States. He also gave us some gossip on the cast but I'm sure our 10SecondReview following aren't concerned by all that!
Overall this is one the finest political thrillers in some time and one of the strongest films of 2009 to date.