State of Play (US-UK, 2009)

Swansong for investigative journalists?

Swansong for investigative journalists?

The remake of the excellent BBC political thriller from 2003 deftly transfers the narrative to Washington DC and updates the ‘state of the nation’ message. The original six-parter had nearly six hours to play with, however the necessary compression is skilfully wrought though the motivation of the politicians is less clear in the film.

Kevin MacDonald’s direction is efficient but blobs on the underground car park suspense sequence (and at the climax). This had shades of All the President’s Men (1976), one of the key paranoia thrillers on the ’70s and, like Michael Clayton (2007) and Syriana (2005), State of Play draws upon that era’s tropes.

Of course there was plenty of complain about in Bush’s America; maybe Obama’s ‘new hope’ will render the genre toothless (in our dreams – however I’ve just read that Obama is considering prosecuting senior Bush figures for their role in torture: that would be something!) Russell Crowe does the ‘grizzled reporter’ really well but Rachel McAdam’s literally ‘bright eyed’ newbie looks to plasticy to be real; Helen Mirren’s marvellous as the editor.

Paul Abbott’s BBC original was a complex ‘state of the nation’ piece that took in ‘urban blacks’, disillusionment with Blair’s New Labour, the role of big business in lobbying and political corruption. Obviously when addressing the international market such parachiolism won’t play so the switch to Washington DC is understandable and its focus on the privatisation of security (rather than oil) is a vital issue; yesterday’s The Guardian led with a story that UK police are feeding intelligence to private security firms on environmental protesters (it’s time someone made a film about UK’s descent into a Police State). One of the three adapters of State of Play, Tony Gilroy wrote and directed Michael Collins as well as the Bourne movies.

Another aspect of the updating was the economic threat to newspapers and the rise of the blog. It’s rather old fashioned in its view of the blogosphere but its contention that the death of newspapers is going to threaten investigative journalism (though the Huffington Post is doing something about this) is correct. It’s great to see citizen journalism putting the Metropolitan police under the microscope after their police-state handling of the G20 protests but there will always be a need to investigate what’s going on ‘behind closed doors’ and that takes skill and money.

I saw the film at a preview in Leeds with only nine other people; it was a freebie advertised in The Guardian. It included a digital relay of a Q & A with the director from a cinema in London; a cute use of digital technology. The print, though, was poor; presumably that was digital.

3 Responses

  1. I had no idea Michael Collins was a political thriller! Who knew a 20th century period biopic with Liam Neeson set in Ireland would have anything to do with American 70’s political thrillers.

    • Thank Will for pointing out the deliberate error; of course everyone knows I meant Michael Clayton.

  2. You learn something new everyday.

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