Gripping political thriller State of Play marked a confident Hollywood debut for Oscar-winning British documentary maker turned feature-film director Kevin Macdonald. Currently shooting a film of Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic children’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth, Macdonald did a good job of translating the BBC’s six-part 2003 series to the big screen, shifting the action from London to Washington but sticking to the broad outlines of the original plot.
The story kicks off when Russell Crowe’s veteran newspaper reporter, Cal McAffrey, begins looking into a puzzling street shooting. Little does he expect that the story will lead him into a tangled mystery involving his old college friend Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a fast-rising US congressman who chairs a controversial defence committee. At the urging of his hard-nosed British editor (Helen Mirren), McAffrey grudgingly joins forces with novice online journalist Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) and sets out to dig up the truth.
Running around one third of the length of the TV series, the movie inevitably loses some of the plot intricacies and character nuances that made the original series so compelling, but it works well on its own terms, skillfully exploiting the tensions between the worlds of politics and journalism, and those between old-school newspaper reporting and its upstart rival the internet. Crowe and McAdams spark well off each other (refreshingly the film resists the temptation to turn them into a romantic pairing), while Affleck usefully exploits the slight shiftiness that somehow accompanies his air of clean-cut, square-jawed gallantry.
Released on 21st September.
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With newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic under threat, State of Play has the feel of an elegy for a dying world. Read more.