Saturday, May 02, 2009
State of Play
Directed By: Kevin McDonald,
Witten By: Michael Matthew Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray;
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, Helen Mirren.
My rating: 8/10
State of Play was adapted from the highly regarded British television series of the same name. When it was decided the political drama would not be returning for a second series, Hollywood picked it up and cast Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in the lead roles. The world rolled its collective eyes at the prospect of a big budget Hollywood attempt to squash such an intricate web of plots into a two hour film. However, somehow, it worked. Clearly, the importance of writing a script that would do the story justice was a high priority for the filmmakers. The writers who were brought on board; writers who have been responsible for Michael Clayton, Breach, The Bourne Ultimatum and Lions For Lambs, some of the greatest political thrillers of the past few decades, put together a simple, fluid and admirably neat screenplay which underplays every plot twist and allows the audience to be led by the story and enjoy the ride, rather than the expected Hollywood sucker punches.
There’s not really any way to synopsise this plot, so let’s just outline the basic setup. A homeless black man in Washington DC is shot dead after having stolen a very important suitcase. An ill-timed passer-by is also shot and put in a coma. The next morning a beautiful young political researcher meets with an “accident” in the D.C. Metro. As it turns out she worked for, and was having an affair with Senator Stephen Collins (Affleck). Collins’ former roommate Cal McAffrey (Crowe) is a grumpy old reporter with the Washington Globe and tries to uncover what’s really going on. He is teamed up with young blogger (McAdams) and they become embroiled in a very complex, very far-reaching plot to privatise homeland security for the sake of profit. This is the basic setup, but must be viewed as a basic jumping off point for almost constant twists and turns and outward growth of the story.
After both Brad Pitt and Edward Norton dropped out of the project, two rushed replacements Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck were drafted in. Luckily, this worked out very well. The script does not focus on character. It sets up the basic caricature and it’s up to the actors to reveal the rest subtly and slowly. The importance of a good cast in film like this cannot be underestimated and as an ensemble piece, it worked really well. Even Ben Affleck, who we all have reservations about, proved here that he is capable of delivering a strong, restrained performance. Russell Crowe is also impressive. His chemistry with Senator Collins’ wife (Wright-Penn) is electric and also the platonic relationship between him and Rachel McAdams’ character Della is great, avoiding the usual romantic traps.
The film deals with some interesting themes of fearing and unwillingly facing the future. This is highlighted by the pairing of old school scruffy journo and fresh young blogger. Also, the shadowy corporation at the centre of the conspiracy, Pointcorp echoes the name of the company, Mediacorp, who have recently bought the Washington Globe. It’s paranoid touches like these that make this film stand out. It is definitely a film that will keep you entertained for two hours, but it is also a film that manages to fill that void left by The X Files in making audiences consider the frighteningly shadowy depths of U.S. politics.
- Charlene Lydon