State of Play (2009) Directed by Kevin Macdonald
State Of Play is a Hollywood adaptation of The BBC TV-series of the same name from a few years back. Of course the story has been relocated from England to the USA. Kevin MacDonald has some form as an excellent documentary maker (One Day In September, Touching the Void) and of the celebrated (though in my opinion overrated) Last King Of Scotland.
This version of State Of Play is in awe of the journalistic/political cinema landmarks of director Alan J. Pakula, All The President's Men and The Parallax View. State Of Play hints at that level of film making but never carries the required intelligence to make us care.
Russell Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, grizzled Washington Globe reporter, who's close friend congressmen Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is implicated in the death of his research assistant, and as it happens, mistress. McAffrey puts all on the line to clear his friends' name and finds a conspiracy behind the story that runs deep and high. The problem with State Of Play is it's littered with average performances (Hello Affleck, Rachel McAdams) and takes an age to get going. MacDonald over-emphasizes the conspiracy/big brother concept by inserting plenty of long shots that suggest we're being watched. It's tiresome and seriously interrupts the flow of the film.
Helen Mirren has all the best lines as the tough editor of the Globe, but ultimately what makes this film more than watchable is...Russell Crowe. I always struggle at the thought of Russell Crowe but then when I watch him in a film I'm always surprised at how good he is. He does it again here, amongst all the cold, flashy Bourne-like editing and slick Hollywood production values, Crowe's McAffrey is refreshing, he's the only 3D character in this film. Unfortunately for us and Crowe, his excellent performance deserves a better film than this.
I was kind of against watching this movie to begin with. I don't love Ben or Russell or the director's other movies (Last King of Scotland). Visually this film was exactly what I thought it would be: clinical, cold as stone, add-like, unimaginative. Why do we have to utilize all this technology just to make everything look uniform, fast and boring? Where is the grit, the dirt, the greases, the accidents that turn into meaningful classics by chance? This coldness is added to by over-dubbing all dialogue in the movie. Even in gale wind outdoors, Russell's low voice is compressed and de-SSSSed and sounds like he should be selling us coffee.
If you can choose between All the President's Men and this, why would you watch State of Play? I'm sure the British TV-series that the film was a remake of, is also much more worth watching.
In this movie journalists talk about blogging as if it was something new to which they are still adapting to. Politicians are involved in privatizing military operations and Iraq and Afghanistan are on the news. This is supposed to make us feel that things are happening right on the pulse here. Is this the best script writing that Hollywood can buy, really?
Ok, so the scene in the garage was gripping. For five minutes I was worried that Russell would be killed. But that would have been too risky in a Hollywood production from the 2000s.