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Review: State of Play (2009)

November 25th, 2009

On my flight down to Houston Friday night, I carried my Audiovox personal DVD player and my Netflixed copy of the US adaptation of the BBC miniseries “State of Play.” Through being kicked by some French four year old sitting, sleeping and being a general pain next to me, I did my best to appreciate and not simply identify the ways in which this film fell short of the miniseries.

Ultimately, it’s hard to not compare the two because this is hardly a reimagining. It’s a near true copy (with Americanized characterizations) of the UK roles, plot lines and mannerism. The main differences are really quite simple:

  • the black victim killed in the opening scene is an actual junkie, as opposed to a falsely accused innocent (hardly a spoiler there);
  • there is less depth to Dominic Foy’s character;
  • Della Frey and Cal McCaffery aren’t truly co-workers;
  • Hellen Mirren‘s editor has no hotshot reporting son as was played by James McAvoy in the BBC version; and
  • the corporation being investigated by Stephen Collins’ subcommittee, Pointcorp, is a thinly veiled version of Blackwater, whereas the BBC version condemned evil oil conglomerates, in general.

Oh, and another difference is that the miniseries is actually good.

There are some strong updates to the UK story. Most notably, the use of a Blackwater proxy proved topical and a more natural fit for misdirection and demonization. It was a solid update over the miniseries’ oil company.


Also solid is the segregation of Russell Crowe‘s Cal as a traditional (if not overly slovenly) ink reporter from Rachel McAdams‘ Della, as an online content contributor (read blogger) for the same dying old media empire (the Washington Globe). The interplay of old and even corporate new media works well in a modern journalistic drama.

But that really is where the positives end. Ben Affleck is stiff and unbelievable as a rising political star (although some Dems suggest that’s his real future). Meanwhile, Crowe is too much the stereotype and presents too stark a contrast from Affleck.

One of the strengths of State of Play on the BBC was the triangular relationship between Cal, Stephen and Anne Collins. Part of that functionality was Cal’s role as then-campaign manager and current-senior political scribe. It fit for a possible close relationship forced apart by circumstance. In the US version, we’re to believe that a similar relationship could exist among old college roommates who had long since distanced. There’s just no reason to believe a magnetic Congressman wouldn’t have found someone else to trust in the prior 20 years.

Another major problem is that the plot twists are telegraphed to make up for the lack of developed story segments. If you’ve seen the UK version, you also get nothing new here. Every Grisham movie will have at least one head fake off the book; however, you’re usually better off enjoying the original source first both in story line and delivery. That’s true here. The miniseries format and delivery is just far superior. Though in a concession to the producers, it would be hard to tell this story well in anything but a four to six hour miniseries.

Perhaps due to personal bias and a general disdain for all post-Voyage of the Mimi Affleck work (Chasing Amy actually was also good), I never could get into this or be surprised by the plot twists. It just fell short despite a solid turn from McAdams (who surprised me by being good). Jason Bateman is also completely wasted on a Dominic Foy that isn’t deeper than the film on soup that’s been sitting too long on the stove.

Ultimately, if you have access to both, there is zero reason to see this over the miniseries. For that reason, it rates a lowly 5 out of 10. It’s not terrible or anything, it’s just nowhere close to be as good as the miniseries.

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