State of Play

Though fans of the original BBC miniseries may be slightly disapointed, State of Play is a thought-provoking, suspenseful drama.

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Hollywood has a long history of romanticising the newspaper industry, but whereas the likes Citizen Kane and It Happened One Night show print journalism at its peak, capable of manipulating public opinion, State of Play depicts it in its death throes. Based on the 2003 BBC miniseries of the same name, this thriller follows the scruffy journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) and the congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) as they unpick a conspiracy that is deeply public and deeply personal for them both. It begins when a bag snatcher and a motorcycle courier are shot execution style by a mystery gunman in a Washington street. Then Collins' chief researcher dies under a subway train and it is revealed that the politician was romantically involved with her. Soon, the capitol's newspapers and blogs begin to question whether her death was suicide or murder. While the media hangs Collins out to dry, McAffrey begins to look into a Blackwater-style private security firm that the congressman was investigating and quickly suspects it is attempting to discredit him. This adaptation is likely to upset many fans of the London-based television series on which it is based. Although Crowe's weathered journalist is believable, he is also the stereotypical jaded hack, a huge contrast to John Simm's performance in the original. And Helen Mirren's newspaper editor lacks the humour that Bill Nighy brought to the part. Also, the removal of several other key roles leaves the story slightly unbalanced. Despite this, the director Kevin Macdonald has made an exciting and thought-provoking drama that elegantly builds suspense. Not only does it faithfully depict a newspaper industry that's feeling the squeeze, but its central conspiracy is also highly engaging and frighteningly believable.