Tuesday, April 21, 2009

REVIEW: State of Play

State of Play

Year: 2009
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn
Distributor: Universal Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG-13

State of Play is a film adaptation of the critically acclaimed 6-part British television serial of the same name written by Paul Abbott. The series first aired on BBC in 2003 and has since become a big hit in the UK. Abbott was reluctant to sell the film rights to State of Play, fearing that a compressed movie version wouldn't have worked. He changed his mind and sold the rights to Paramount Pictures in May 2004. Before the deal could be finalised, the project fell apart and Universal Pictures stepped in with director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) attached to direct. Brad Pitt signed on to play Cal McAffrey with Edward Norton set to play Congressman Stephen Collins. Before filming began, Pitt dropped out because of script rewrites and demanded that the studio delay the movie until after the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike so a new script could be formed. The move would have delayed the movie over a year, but Universal was reluctant to wait that long. Since Pitt dropped out, the film was delayed until Universal could find a replacement which eventually went to Russell Crowe. The delay caused by Pitt, interrupted Edward Norton's filming schedule because he was also filming another movie at the time. Norton asked the studio if he could be replaced and Universal worked out a deal where he was traded for actor Ben Affleck. With everything finally set and ready, the movie began filming sometime in 2008.

Plot Outline:
A petty thief is gunned down in an alley and a Congressman's assistant falls in front of a subway - two seemingly unrelated deaths. But not to wisecracking, brash newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) who spies a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered. With a turbulent past connected to Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) and the aid of ambitious young rookie writer Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), Cal begins uprooting clues that lead him to a corporate cover-up full of insiders, informants, and assassins. But as he draws closer to the truth, the relentless journalist must decide if it's worth risking his life and selling his soul to get the ultimate story.

Seeing as how I wasn't able to catch the BBC version of State of Play, I cant compare the two to see how close they are. With that said, I found the film version to be pretty great. The story is refreshing and kind of complex at times. Its one of those movies were you kind of have to pay close attention to whats going on or else you will probably get lost. Its subjects of journalism and politics is really interesting and its really fascinating to see how news gets around. The dialogue is nice and snazzy without being too serious. You eventually go on to love and hate some of these wonderful characters. Each one of them is pretty intriguing in their own right ways. This is a political thriller at heart so people expecting big action scenes are going to be disappointed. Theirs hardly any action going on and its simply dialogue driven. This doesn't matter to me because the trailer and TV spots never indicated that this film was going to be anything less than a dialogue film. The only problem I found with the film is that it feels like a bunch of really cool ideas mashed together. What I mean by this is that the film can feel ambitious at times and seems like it has too much going for it. I understand that the task of trying to fit a 6-part TV series into roughly a 2 and a half hour film, can be tedious, and quite difficult. I think the writers did as much as they can in fitting the main concept of the BBC series into the film version. Still, with enough twists and turns, I think the story turned out pretty good and was simply entertaining. The ending did feel alittle rushed and partly unexplained, but I thought it kind of left on a creative tone.

Russell Crowe plays as the main protagonist of the film, Cal McCaffrey. I'm somewhat of a Crowe fan because I think hes just about great in almost every film hes been in. I wasn't too fond of him in Body of Lies, but I think hes great here. He makes the character very believable and very likable. It also helps that Crowe just simply overshadows everyone in the film. He gets the most screen time and the film plays it like hes the only person on the case. It would have been interesting to see Brad Pitt play this role, but I still think Crowe was a fine replacement. Ben Affleck plays the supporting role of Stephen Collins. I don't really follow Affleck these days. I mean I don't hate the guy, but I haven't really seen him in much movies lately. He has been getting alittle tiring and un-creative in terms of the characters hes played. I think he was pretty alright in State of Play. I didn't find his performance all that special, but It also wasn't that bad. I think he was the right figure to pay Collins, but his emotional scenes could have used some work. Rachel McAdams plays as Della Frye and she too is great in her role. I enjoy McAdams in almost any role shes in because shes so fun to watch. Her character was not only sexy, but also charming and precise. I do wish we knew alittle more about the character she plays, but I enjoyed her performance in this film. We also have Helen Mirren playing the rigorous Cameron Lynne. Mirren is just as great as ever and always seems to please me in her unique roles. Shes very talented and definitely knows how to act. Theirs no complaints from me here because I thought her character was just awesome.

The visual look of State of Play is generally good, but it does come with some faults. The film's source is in good shape and doesn't contain too much film grain. The image does show some grain here and their, but I think this was the directors intent to make the film much more realistic. Colors were mostly muted to go with the story. The image never seems to blush at you with vibrancy, but instead goes with the natural gritty look of a good thriller. This doesn't really bother me since a colorful image probably wouldn't have went well with the political story the film was trying to tell. Black levels are pretty solid though out the film, but they do tend to look alittle hazy in some of the darker scenes. Flesh tones seem natural and simplistic. Not too warm, but also not too artificial looking. Detail is a mixed bag on most parts. The early scene in the beginning of the film that shows the murder, looks really good especially when close up. Than the later scenes tend to look somewhat soft and lack detail. The level of detail seems to be inconstant and never really on the same page. At times, the image can tend to look great, but than their are also those times where it seems too soft for a new release film like this.

The soundtrack in State of Play is slightly above average. The original music is done by Alex Heffes who also composed music for Touching the Void and The Last King of Scotland, both of which directed by Kevin Macdonald. Heffes definitely seems to know what hes doing and his score never seems to get in the way of the dialogue which is extremely important in a dialogue driven film like this. His score is engaging and is well used in many scenes. The film does tend to feel like its relying too much on its one score rather than exploiting other sound. The bass in State of Play isn't something to brag about. Its spread pretty nicely, but does tend to focus more on the front. Since the film is heavily dialogue driven, theirs hardly much for the bass to be used for. Still, the film does sound generally good for a thriller and I wouldn't expect it to sound any better for a film of this type.

State of Play is an effective, smart and compelling thriller. I haven't seen the popular BBC version, but I really enjoyed this film. I thought the story was fascinating, but also somewhat hard to follow. Its one of those movies where you kind of have to watch it twice to fully capture most of the story kind of like Watchmen. It also feels like it has too much going for it, yet it tries to squeeze every little detail within the time allotted. Still, the film features some strong acting along with a good amount of twists that make the story much more forgivable. The cast is mostly great with all of them having some interesting characters. The visual look of the film is very much natural looking, but tends to have inconstant detail. The soundtrack is effective and very much in tack with the dialogue. Its engaging and creates some thrilling moments when a twist is about to be revealed. I can recommend this film to those looking for a great thriller based on the subjects of journalism and politics. Your going to have to pay close attention to fully appreciate the story, but its worth it. Its a must for those adults looking for a crime thriller.

Grade: B


Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to see this movie ever since I saw the trailer on TV (you can watch it at http://displacedbrett.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/state-of-play/). I loved the couple of episodes of the original mini-series that I've watched; hope this lives up to that standard.

I don't like Affleck, but I think this might actually be a good role for him. Russell Crowe almost always delivers. Also, the trailer has a great song, "Unstoppable" by Minutes Til Midnight that does a great job of setting the mood. So yah, personally I'm way excited for this film.

Farzan said...

Great movie displacedbrett. I haven't seen the mini-series, but I have heard great things about it.

Mitch Harper said...

Long time no see Farzan.

Great review as always. I was sitting on the fence with this one. The cast looked great and all but now reading your review I'm set on seeing it! ;)

micky said...

good review mate, been waiting for this to open in the uk now. love the bbc version

Farzan said...

You should see it Mitch, kinda boggles down to dialogue mostly, but its still a great movie. Nice to see your finally back lol