Another television to cinema transfer. And again it’s not rubbish. Whatever are we to to do?
State Of Play the television series was a masterpiece of confusion and paranoia, benefitting from the perfectly cast John Simm and Bill Nighy. For most of the series, the viewer had very little idea what was going on, and that was a good thing. You ended up as confused and scared as the central character, and you really went on the journey with him.
State Of Play the film has crossed the Atlantic and added the threat of blogging to traditional journalism and the war against terror to the mix. That’s fine, because this is a story that really needs to be of it’s time. The time constraints of cinema mean it’s hard to build up the same slow sense of utter panic; instead attention is wisely turned to the motivations of the people involved, and their difficulty in surfing the waves of a fast changing world – as it affects the professions of politics and journalism. The latter, of course, is the way most of consume the former, so this really is an important issue.
There’s a lot that’s good here. Director Kevin Macdonald keeps the story moving well, as we know he’s so good at (see Touching The Void or The Last King Of Scotland). Helen Mirren is ideal as the newspaper’s editor; and Russell Crowe continues to manage that strange trick of being down-at-heel and magnetic at the same time. Even managing to remember most of the story before I went in, I was still basically compelled by the story and the people.
So it’s good stuff, but if there’s a disppointment it’s that the big issues are never really addressed. The context of arms and the war on terror is just scenery; the impact of new media on old is more of a soundtrack than a debate. This director managed to pull it off better in The Last King Of Scotland; maybe that was better written, and it certainly benefitted from having just the one central character. He became the imperfect prism through which the era and the wider issues were examined, as well as the means for telling the story. Here the attention is split between a handful of central characters, none of whom are really given enough depth or time to enable the issues to rise to the surface. The running time of a series makes multiple central figures easier to handle; here the effect is that there’s nothing to really focus on, no-one for the viewer to really empathise with.
In the end, though, this is still a really good thriller and one that deserves attention. It’s of it’s time, it’s compelling and the performances are very fine. All of these carry you through at enough speed not to be really bothered by the deficits.