Speaking as one who has not seen the original BBC drama on which this movie is based, I am afraid I cannot compare the two. However, I am now keen to do so. This new State of Play is a clever conglomeration of British and American political scandal, it is this generation’s version of All The President’s Men, with scenes that would fit into a revival of Drop the Dead Donkey thrown in for good measure.
Russell Crowe stars as Cal McAffrey, a journalist for the Washington Globe investigating the death of political researcher, Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer). Baker had been doing research on a huge American company called PointCorp, for McAffrey’s old college friend, Congressman Stephen Collins, played by Ben Affleck.
With the help of Rachel McAdams’ political blogger Della Frye, a branch of journalism for which McAffrey has nothing but scorn, he stumbles across more and more seemingly unrelated sideshows. His persistence in following them up drives his blunt, sardonic, prickly editor (a surprisingly and enjoyably uncouth Helen Mirren) long past despair. She is more concerned about the plight of her rapidly declining newspaper to care about it printing the truth.
As with any good investigative story, watching the loose threads get neatly sewn together is part of the satisfaction. Crowe as McAffrey is concise enough not to complicate the complicated, and comes across as a likeable journalist; while director Kevin MacDonald (who gave us the powerful, atmospheric The Last King of Scotland) keeps the tension and uncertainty taut. Even Ben Affleck manages not to be as wooden as my pine furniture under MacDonald’s guidance.
There is still a sprinkling of humour through the strain, much of it between McAffrey and Frye over the conflict and bitterness between their respective fading print journalism, and the expanding blog culture. “I’ll have to read a couple of blogs before I make an informed decision”, he tells her when she asks him about circulating rumours of Collins’ private life.
In all honesty, the only thing that spoiled it slightly - without wanting to give too much away - was the timing of the UK release: we are now (believe it or not) only four episodes away from the end of series seven of 24. For those that have watched the last twenty, certain subjects in State of Play will not seem anywhere near as dangerous or frightening.
Speaking of TV dramas, come on, BBC! Remind us why this movie was made in the first place!