Friday, August 21, 2009

State of Play (US, 2009): an engaging thriller

Now here's an intelligent film, I thought when I watched this.

No, I don't mean Russell Crowe. I watch films despite him, not because of him.

But this one has quite an intricate, taut plot, one that keeps you working all the way through. Uncommon for a Hollywood film - then I found it was based on a British miniseries of the same name. That makes a lot more sense. This film probably draws a large amount of its credit from the original source - which was compared very favourably to the earlier Edge Of Darkness, another British political thriller - which I have seen, and which was particularly good, even second time around.

In fact, the original State Of Play was so complex the writer didn't want to sell the film rights because he thought it would be unworkable to condense it. Not to worry, he was eventually persuaded by enough money.

The film revolves around politics and journalism - set in Washington, rather than the original London. A minor theme is the tension between the new and the old of online versus traditional journalism. Somewhat overplayed at times, but it eventually resolved an acceptance of the validity of both paradigms.

On reflection, I believe Russell Crowe wasn't a great fit for his role. He was competent, but I expect others could have been more fitting. Apparently, Brad Pitt was originally up for the journalist role played by Crowe. I'm not a huge fan of his, either, although he gave a very creditable performance in Terry Gilliam's excellent 12 Monkeys. A good film can be ruined by miscasting; a great one can be dulled. Crowe didn't cripple this film, but he didn't enhance it.

In that sense, State Of Play could have been better. But regardless, it was a captivating watch; if only Hollywood were more often this engaging. Four stars.

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