Review: State Of Play (12A)
Starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck
"Unlike the movie, you're all over the place, dealing with more twists, turns and close shaves than a confused man on a Rascal trying to find the loos at Alton Towers."
- OK, so this is me talking. Mr Newspaperman. Inkheart. The Knowledge of All Fonts. That scene in State Of Play? In which they show the coming together of a newspaper? Negative to plate; plate to press; press to paper; paper to bundle; bundle to lorry? All that? That's porn to me. Truly.
So when I say this, you know I'm defeated by prejudice. However...
I still think that every movie should be a newspaper movie.
No, hear me out. Newspaper movies have an excellent track record. Kevin Macdonald, director of State Of Play, knows this. Which is why he drenches his set with tropes from the golden era of the newspaper conspiracy drama (the '70s).
Hell, he even has the naming of Deep Throat as a cutting on the cubicle wall of wild-haired, plumped bellied journo Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) as a tribute to the ultimate newspaper movie, All The President's Men.
The bad guys? They have a phantom office. Where's the bad guys' phantom office, you ask. I'll tell you. In the Watergate building. In the suffix-begetting Nixon-busting monolith itself.
All movies should be newspaper movies because we've entered a dubious blogospherical Wild West world of don't-ask-but-do-tell slop in which important stories are swept away by a tide of snarking diatribes, rolling inanities and celeb candy floss feuds. And good newspapers are the last refuge of the truth.
That's not me talking, you understand. That's old school, denim-shirted, lumpy Luddite Cal who finds time in his busy conspiracy-busting schedule to rail against the corporate institutionalisation of cant as commodity.
And that's just in the real world (shudder). In the movie world, the conventions of the newspaper movie make for rocking drama because, unlike police procedurals, journos can't kick down doors, or pull a Smith & Wesson or press a button on the CSI Spectrum™ which turns a mote of dust into a comprehensive suspect profile, complete with rap-sheet, record collection and recreation of a post-jalfrezi digestive tract.
Reporters have to knock on doors which are closed in their faces and make calls that are not returned and find someone who wants not to be found by deploying their IQs not their DMs.
Overcoming obstacles is at the heart of story-telling. Journos have to overcome obstacles. Police clear obstacles simply by citing abracadabra anti-terror legislation.
It's the difference between Star Trek: Next Generation (where they had a phaser setting for this and a tractor beam for that so they never broke a sweat saving the universe) and Star Trek: Enterprise (where they had to go places and do things and find solutions using lateral thinking and bits of wire and demi-masticated Tofu nuggets because the Lazyman "Picard" 3000™ had yet to be invented.)
Holy shark repellent spray, Batman, I am getting off the point.
State Of Play is a neat, intellectually stimulating, well-paced, three-dimensional condensation of the BBC conspiracy drama by Paul Abbot (who exec produces) and features the tendril thin friendship between hack McCaffrey and dead-eyed congressman Stephen Collins.
(The dead eyes aren't essential for the part. They were provided gratis by wall-faced Kryten-a-like Ben Affleck who discovers timely onions in his breast pocket when things turn boo-hoo sad.)
There are neat turns among the support cast. Helen Mirren disinters DCI Jane Tennison to recreate weathered and profane editor Cameron Lynne; Rachel McAdams is winsome as new media ingénue Della Frye, and Robin Wright Penn is fragrant and willowy as Collins's long-suffering wife whose stand-by-your-man vanilla disguises the bitter aftertaste of a free-lovin' past.
Finally, supersub Jason Bateman comes in and does his usual sleazeball cameo with such deft nuance that you see the oil ooze from his pores like he's one of those toy Plasticine-haired salon dolls.
Two dead bodies show up. Then Collins's research assistant is humbled by a speeding train. Collins's committee of Congressmen is investigating the shadowy world of private security companies who have mercenaries on tap so blackmail may be a motive.
But who really knows? Unlike the movie - which is well-paced and sharp - you're all over the place, dealing with more twists, turns and close shaves than a confused man on a Rascal trying to find the loos at Alton Towers.
To say more would be to give the game away. Nothing is what it seems and when leads coagulate into something you would recognise as the Truth, it all turns to goo in your hands and you have to re-appraise your life, career and goals based on the new-found knowledge that your instincts are shot and you're just an echoing patsy for Hollywood's impish manipulations.
It's good stuff, really is. Trust me, I'm a newspaperman.