Murph Review -- State of Play 4/22/09 (Some spoilers) - Revised for accuracy
This will be a difficult review for me to write, mainly because I have seen, and loved, the BBC series on which the film is based 3 times. Yet this film, in its two hours, does an excellent job of telling us about a newspaper and a story that is large enough to include characters from poor to wealthy, from individuals to large corporations, and finally, mainly, to show us the inner workings of a troubled newspaper. You can smell the newsprint from your seat in the theater.
Russell plays Cal McAffrey. His Cal is long haired, sloppy, overweight, and partial to Newfoundland folk music and Cheetos. He is also a darn good news reporter of the old school, believing in tips, and fact digging, and shoe leather to get his story. Crowe’s face has seen the world, and it tells its own story. Once again he is the master of the look in the eyes, and the unspoken thought behind those eyes. When he is on screen, he owns it.
He is paired with Della Smith, well played by Rachel Adams, a new fangled blogger for the Washington Globe on line edition. Rachel Adams’ Della is Crowe’s opposite in everything, except for being as able as he in getting to the source of the story – in her own way.
Kevin Macdonald, as director of the film version, knows how to make a camera work, and to move the action along at a brisk pace. There are two “action” sequences, one in an almost empty garage that will get your pulse running and is brand new for the film. Also the opening action scene really grabbed the audience and drew us in to the plot line. We assume it will connect to the main characters but don't know how.
More low-key than David Morrissey, who played Stephen Collins in the original, Affleck built on his charactor and was finally very affecting in the role. His manner and expression when he had to announce the death of his research assistant were the marks of a talented actor.
Helen Mirren was an excellent editor in chief of a failing newspaper. The story has shifted, since the mini series, from thriving newspapers, to ones that struggle daily to keep their identity against corporate take-overs, and lack of readership. Mirren had to cope with all that, while trying to run the newspaper. She also had some of the saltiest lines in the movie.
I thought many of the subordinate characters were excellent, among them Jeff Daniels as George Fergus. He played the West Virginian congressman with just the right amount of swarmy piety. The ever beautiful Robin Wright Penn was quietly effective as Collins’ wife. Jason Bateman as Dominic Foy was also outstanding in a small role. He had great lines, and was enough of a charming sleaze-bag to make us wish we could have seen more of him. Marc Warren, in the BBC series, had a much larger part, and who will forget him at the airport, his jaw wired, and neck brace on, trying to catch a plane.
Harry Lennox, in the Philip Glenister part, was also someone to watch, as was the killer, Robert Bingham, played in the film with chilling fanaticism by Michael Berresse.
Outstanding were the sets (news room) and use of DC as a backdrop. Macdonald avoided too many obvious Washington landmark shots. Particularly notable is a scene with Crowe and Daniels in front of the Kennedy Center. Also the scene in the Metro was stylish and well shot.
Again Russell proves that his goose-bump factor is still working. State of Play is a first class film – action packed, with enough plot twists to keep you guessing until the final scene. And his Cal McAffrey joins many of his other great characterizations on the screen.