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Dodgy dealings

State of Play
12A, Nationwide

22 April 2009

12:00 AM

22 April 2009

12:00 AM

State of Play
12A, Nationwide

State of Play is a thriller based on the six-part BBC series shown on television in 2003 and which, I confess, I did not see. Probably, it was because What Not To Wear was on the other side and, I’m sorry, I just wouldn’t have had the confidence to know what not to wear if I’d missed it. Anyway, the action has been shifted from London to Washington, the length has been shrunk to two hours and it stars Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey, an old-school investigative journalist who is also wearily righteous, as these characters so often are. Further, he drives a dirty, scruffy, old banger with a lot of rubbish piled up on the back seat — newspapers; empty coffee cups; crumpled fast-food wrappers — but you didn’t need me to tell you that either, did you?


So, what’s the deal? OK, it all kicks off when a congressman’s beautiful, sexy researcher is pushed under a subway train. Who murdered her, and why? Cal, God bless him, is into his banger and on to it, with one thing leading to another until he finds himself immersed in a murky world of corporate conspiracy, political corruption, dodgy defence contracts, adultery and homicide. I must say I’m glad I’m not a proper journalist as it looks very tiring, and also you’re expected to find stuff out. Like I have the time! Tonight, for instance, I’m going out and as of yet I haven’t a clue what not to wear!

This is one of those films which has nothing too obviously wrong with it. I liked Crowe’s wearily righteous performance, and even his appearance — podgy and pasty with shoulder-length hair, he resembles a potato in a wig — but it just all seems rather ‘so what?’. The congressman may or may not be up to his neck in it, but so what? I never felt it mattered, or that it really had any point. Directed by Kevin ‘Last King of Scotland’ Macdonald — which makes it sound as if he was the last king of Scotland; he wasn’t — perhaps it is just too overstuffed.

There is lots and lots of plot and then on top of the plot, of which there is lots, the movie wants to take on various old-versus-new themes, all of which feel contrived. For example, there is Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), a young, web-centric journalist of the newfangled kind, who is assigned to work alongside Cal, and whose character doesn’t add up to much beyond being very pretty and being there so that Cal can teach her a thing or two. Plus there is Helen Mirren, who, playing Cal’s boss and the editor of the newspaper, is caught between the demands of the paper’s new owners, who are interested only in sales, and her own instinct for good, oldfangled, shoe-leather, find-stuff-out journalism (yikes!). It’s all a little heavy-handed and laborious. As for a journalist solving a murder mystery single-handedly and completely in isolation from any police work, it may be credible but I would also add this: I’ve worked in newspaper offices and, mostly, we sat around and talked about handbags.

Actually, this is an old-fashioned and conventional film in and of itself, featuring not only a ‘hold the front page’ scenario but also one of those on-foot chases through an underground car park as if we haven’t seen enough on-foot chases through underground car parks, which we so have. State of Play is well put together and has some intelligence but it’s just not very interesting or exciting or gripping for most of the time. Probably, it worked better at six hours but, of course, I don’t know that for certain. All I do know is that you should never wear denim with denim. That is a very big no-no, for sure. 


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