Last year, when I first heard about the cast for the American version of State of Play , I thought, Dang, that script must be really bangin’ to get all those stars to sign up! I mean, Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Jeff Daniels and Helen Mirren are all crammed into this movie. The trailers just look like standard thriller fare so what’s the scoop?
Since the movie is based on a BBC series of the same name, I checked that out last week on DVD. Luckily, I did this on a Saturday. But, unwisely, I popped in the first disc at about 11 p.m., thinking I’d polish off one episode (there are six) before hitting the sheets. Three a.m. and four episodes later, I’m bleary-eyed but still up because from the first frame, this show grabbed me by the throat, threw me up against the wall and kept me hanging. It’s brilliant, really, and I don’t use that word often.
The series is about investigative newspaper reporter Cal McCaffrey, who stumbles upon the most explosive story of his career when an MP’s (member of Parliament) research assistant/lover dies under mysterious circumstances (she may or may not have accidentally fallen onto the tube’s tracks). On the same day across town, a teenager is assassinated in a seemingly drug-related killing. Cal and his fellow staff reporters investigate these stories and find they might be connected. The incidents also have far-reaching implications into the corridors of government and may be too hot for the paper to handle.
The terrific ensemble is led by David Morrissey (Viva Blackpool) as the MP, Stephen Collins; John Simm (the original Sam Tyler in the British version of Life on Mars); Kelly McDonald (No Country for Old Men); Polly Walker (Rome); James McAvoy and the fabulously wry Bill Nighy, who delivers every line with perfection.
After finishing the series, I thought, How is the American version going to top this? How will it cram six hours’ worth of plot—jam-packed every minute with clues and revelations and surprise twists— into two? But the amazing cast gives me hope. I think Crowe (as McCaffrey), McAdams (his colleague Della), Wright Penn (Collins’s wife) and Daniels (Collins’s superior) are well cast. And if there’s anybody who can make me forget, if only temporarily, Nighy’s performance, it’s the divine Helen Mirren in a fun gender twist as the paper’s tough but smart editor.
Affleck (as Collins, here a Congressman) is the only one I’m concerned about; I’ve never been a fan of his onscreen persona. Have you seen Changing Lanes or Reindeer Games or Pearl Harbor or Armageddon? He seems lightweight for a role in which Morrissey gives a towering performance. But then again, Affleck was good as George Reeves in Hollywoodland. Also, when I saw him speak couple years ago at a screening for Gone Baby Gone (which I thought was well done), I found him charming and smart and it reminded me why he won that Oscar for writing once upon a time. If he could transplant his real-life charisma onto the screen, he’d be great as Stephen Collins.
The movie opens Stateside April 17. (Click here for my comparison between this and the American version.)