State of Play 

Paper Chase: Hollywood didn't screw it up this time.

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I am a profound fan of State of Play, the 2003 BBC tele-cinematical crumpet.

So I am very glad to be able to say that Hollywood didn’t screw up boiling down that six-hour story into this two-hour version.

This is what it is (Americanized): A research aide to a congressman is dead. Was it a suicide? Was it an accident? Was it murder? Did her boss have something to do with it? The congressman, Stephen Collins, is played by Ben Affleck, suddenly looking all mature and grownup and adult—and when the hell did that happen? His old college roommate is now a hotshot investigative journalist at a big Washington newspaper, and hot on the story. Cal McAffrey is played by Russell Crowe, with the same sort of forceful, passionate Russell Crowe-ness that has always made him utterly enthralling onscreen.

See, Cal is old-school. He’s Woodward and Bernstein a generation too late. But can real journalism be done when profit is all, and gossip and scandal are what sell, and the Internet will scoop whatever story a boots-on-the-ground grunt of a writer can scrape up on the streets when he has to deal with sources and, you know, ethics and stuff? Yeah, this is still Hollywood. There’s a Hollywood action sequence that’s not exactly out of place, except when you compare it to the original, which was all silent exchanged glances speaking volumes and quiet moments about character that made you ache for them even when you had to acknowledge they were huge assholes.

But I cannot bitch about this new State of Play. It’s exciting and urgent and thrilling. It is a beautiful and sad fantasy about the last gasp of investigative journalism, which has already passed. I mean, I wouldn’t like to think so, but I suspect it’s true. This is like All the President’s Men if Watergate had never been exposed, and we had to imagine it had been.


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Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams
Rated PG-13

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MaryAnn Johanson

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