Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)
State of Play
“It is an absolutely formulaic thriller movie, but executed really well. Like, somebody had a concept for this movie, and pulled it off exactly as they wanted it. The movie is like a really good hamburger: all of the elements are simple, but it is definitely enjoyable”
“State of Play” is based on a successful and highly acclaimed six-episode BBC serial of the same name from 2003, which featured notable actors such as James McAvoy, Jon Simm, and Bill Nighy, and David Morrissey (among others).
The American film adaptation of “State of Play” is directed by Kevin Macdonald, known for acclaimed films such as “The Last King of Scotland” and “Touching the Void.” However, the film is reported to have been passed on by acclaimed directors such as Jim Jarmusch, Brian De Palma, Richard Linklater, Ang Lee, and Edward Zwick.
The casting of “State of Play” was somewhat of a revolving door during pre-production, resulting in a number of delays. Initially, it was intended to be a reuniting of the “Fight Club” duo of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. However, delays from the 2007 writers’ strike led to scheduling conflicts, which inevitably led to more delays and conflicts, ultimately resulting in the two central roles going to Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck after both Norton and Pitt had to back out. The rest of the deep cast features Jeff Daniels prior to his resurgent role in “The Newsroom,” Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, and Robin Wright. However, the all-star American casting was criticized by some media outlets in the UK (most notably The Independent), in particular because none of the brilliant original serial cast were asked to return for the film.
As mentioned previously, “State of Play” went through extensive re-writes throughout production, passing through a variety of hands. Included among the writing credits are Tony Gilroy of the “Bourne” series and “The Devil’s Advocate,” Matthew Michael Carnahan of “Lions for Lambs,” and “The Kingdom,” and Billy Ray of “Volcano,” “Shattered Glass,” and “Captain Phillips.” Although not ultimately credited, Peter Morgan of “The Queen” was also brought in at one point for rewrites.
“State of Play” features an Academy Award nominated cinematographer in Rodrigo Prieto, who has lofty credits including “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Babel,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Argo,” and “21 Grams.” Elsewhere in the crew is prolific casting director Avy Kaufman, who assembled casts for movies like “Lincoln,” “AI,” “The Sixth Sense,” and “Life of Pi” (as well as another Clerk’s Pick: Scotland, PA).
“State of Play” is a slow-burning movie that incorporates interesting elements from action movies into what is without a doubt a political / journalistic thriller. There are a number of frenetic, tense sequences that feel like they are pulled from a Jason Bourne movie, whereas most of film bears significant similarities to dark, political dramas like “House of Cards.” It makes for a really interesting and tense watch, to say the least.
Director Kevin Mcdonald specifically cites “All the President’s Men” as the primary inspiration for the movie’s direction, and odes to that film and the Watergate scandal are scattered throughout the movie. However, as I mentioned previously, I think “State of Play” feels and looks far more like the recent, lauded American adaptation of “House of Cards” than anything else. This is particularly interesting, given the “State of Play” BBC serial drew a lot of comparisons from critics to the earlier, original 1990 BBC version of “House of Cards”, creating a curious sort of ouroboros between the two properties.
One of the most impressive aspects of this movie, in my opinion, is the stellar performance by Ben Affleck. “State of Play” immediately predates his recent renaissance: the very next year saw the release of his second directorial feature “The Town,” which I credit as the start of his revival into prominence.
The casting in general for “State of Play” is top notch, and features a number of memorable performances. Outside of Affleck and Crowe, Jason Bateman particularly stood out to me despite having a very small supporting role in the movie. His skeevy character manages to bring a little bit of comic relief into the movie without ruining the tone or distracting from the story, which could easily have happened with someone else in the role.
The cinematography in “State of Play” is absolutely fantastic. Just as the story splits time between the political world and journalistic world, the shooting styles differ depending on the focus of the scene. Parts that center on Russell Crowe and the journalists resemble the shaky, handheld style that Rodrigo Prieto later used in “Argo”, whereas the political side of the movie is filmed in pristine, well-lit high definition.
“State of Play” is a pretty solid recommendation from me, particularly for anyone who is dying for more “House of Cards.” The pacing is probably too slow for people expecting an action-packed movie, but I think the tension is well built throughout the film. I admittedly would have preferred to see the initially intended Pitt / Norton version of the film, but Crowe / Affleck are definitely on point here.