Anyone who watches the news on even a semi-regular basis sees certainly things highlighted repeatedly – corrupt politicians, corrupt corporations, sex scandals, and the plight of newspaper among these. Russell Crowe's latest Blu-ray release, State of Play, combines all of these laments into a single conspiracy theory-laden political-social-economic thriller. The film, directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) and based on a British TV series does its best to be everything to everyone and thereby only succeeds marginally with what could have been a great movie.
The cast is a good one and features not only Crowe, but Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright-Penn, Jason Bateman, and Jeff Daniels too. Much like having a plot which covers every possible thriller base, the filmmakers seem to have cast the movie to cover every possible demographic (save minorities for some strange reason). And, much like the plot, due to breadth of the actors, the depth of each character is quite minimal.
Crowe leads the pack s Cal McCaffrey, a long-in-the-tooth old-school journalist. He's the kind of guy, the audience is repeatedly told, who would rather dig for the truth than simply use Google to find confirmation. That's a skill that cub internet-based reporter Della Frye (McAdams) lacks. Not to worry though, she's teamed up with Cal, so from the very first moment the audience meets her, it's clear where her character is headed.
It's also clear where the entire film is headed – to the highest echelons of power within our government. The movie starts off with a couple of seemingly unconnected murders, but if they were unconnected the audience never would have been shown them both, especially not back-to-back.
As it turns out, the whole thing is connected to increasingly powerful congressman, Stephen Collins (Affleck), who just happens to have been Cal's roommate back in college (there is an 8 year age difference between the two, but we're told that Cal's a hard-living kind of guy, so that might almost be plausible). The two men have shared much through the years, including Collins' wife, Anne (Wright-Penn).
Representative Collins, of course, hasn't been entirely monogamous either, and one of those killed was not only his "lead researcher" but also his mistress. Collins tends to believe that the entire thing has something to do with the committee he leads looking into making a deal with PointCorp, a private defense contractor.
State of Play has a very "ripped from the headlines" feel to it, and no matter how many twists and turns the script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, and Billy Ray and based on Paul Abbott's writing of the British series throw out, anyone who has ever seen a conspiracy theory thriller will know exactly where the larger film is headed. There are a number of sidetracks and deviations thrown in, but it's never entirely clear whether they're there in order to try and shake the audience from the truth or whether they dead end because a single two hour film can't possibly encompass everything the television series did. It certainly feels as though Mirren's newspaper editor character, Daniels' Congressman, and Bateman's PR executive should be far more present in the film than they are.
State of Play isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it simply cannot hold a candle to a classic newspaper-reporter(s)-searching-for-the-truth film like All The President's Men. Unfortunately however for State of Play, such a comparison almost has to be made and State of Play will always come up wanting in one.
The quality of the Blu-ray release is pretty standard. There is a good sharpness to the picture and much detail can be found in it, but blacks do tend to blend together more than they should which makes it difficult to discern what is taking place in some scenes. The film, while it does have some gunplay, tends to be in the dialogue-heavy thriller vein and the 5.1 channel English DTS-HD Master Audio track handles it acceptably, though some of the more quiet dialogue tends to get lost.
The extras on the release include some picture-in-picture behind the scenes footage and looks at actual D.C. locations as well as deleted scenes and a making-of documentary. This last piece is most noticeable for the high regard in which the filmmakers hold the British series. While liking one's source material is important, after watching the featurette, one can't help but wonder why they didn't just watch the British TV show instead of this movie.
It is a little hard to fault State of Play for not being as good as what might be one of the best movies ever made, but there are simply too many similarities between it and All the President's Men for the comparison not to get made. State of Play certainly explores slightly different terrain than that film, but as State of Play never draws in the audience to its own plot sufficiently the comparison lingers and inevitably leaves one disappointed with this film.