Friday, 29 May 2009

State of Play: Movie Review

State of Play: Movie Review

Rating: 9/10
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, Helen Mirren.

Director: Kevin Macdonald

State of Play is based on the critically acclaimed BBC series of the same name.
It's no doubt an intimidating task adapting a much loved British drama into a feature length American film.
What sacrifices should be made reducing a six-episode series into a feature length film? Can blockbuster actors do justice to much loved roles?

It's worth pointing out here that I haven't seen the television series in its entirety; though I was familiar with the conclusion before seeing the film. This hasn't changed my opinion in the slightest: this movie is quite brilliant.

Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck) is a rising star in his political party. Responsible for chairing a committee exploring US defence spending commitments, Collins' career is derailed when his research assistant - and mistress - is killed.

Journalist Cal McAffrey (Crowe) is sent to investigate the accident, along with the murder of a junkie on Washington's mean streets. McAffrey treads the fine line between maintaining his long-standing friendship with Collins while remaining committed to the demands of his editor Cameron (Mirren).

As McAffrey and hot shot reporter Della Frye (McAdams) discover the connection between the murders, the two uncover a web of corporate deceit so intricate it becomes to differentiate the good from the bad and the trustworthy from the corrupt.

While developing the film, the producers struck a road block. After signing on to play Cal McAffrey, Brad Pitt left the production - a decision director Kevin Macdonald approved wholeheartedly. According to recent interviews Pitt requested that McAffrey's wardrobe include cashmere suits. Mcdonald disagreed and Russell Crowe took the role.

As the fleshy, flawed McAffrey, Crowe manages to avoid the trappings of playing the classic antihero. Crowe's McAffrey is both hack and friend, constantly torn between journalistic integrity and a desire to protect his old mate from the very vultures he works with.

Crowe has managed to transcend the earnest masculinity that has dominated his previous roles. While devouring twinkies and slugging whiskey from cracked mugs - wearing a crumpled old suit - Crowe manages to create a real character who in spite of obvious flaws is still dedicated to justice.

State of Play relies heavily on the interplay between its main players and this isn't Crowe's movie alone. Ben Affleck is particularly good as the guarded Collins, while Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn and Helen Mirren are as consistent as usual. Jason Bateman deserves a mention for his a nicely ironic performance as a hapless PR schmuck.

State of Play's characters are intrinsically conflicted, each determined to protect their own backs and advance their careers while attempting to reveal - or conceal - the truth.

Who has control? Who is manipulating whom? It's a credit to these actors that they manage to make a bunch of scoundrels so likeable.

Political thrillers don't get better than this.

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