Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Sex, betrayal, politics: do these worlds conjure up images of things ripped from today’s headlines, or just a “very special” episode of Law and Order? Whatever their main use, they will be on full display this fall in the big screen adaptation of State of Play. Originally aired as an amazing BBC miniseries, it’s jumping to American shores and is being made with heavy hitting stars like Ben Affleck, Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Robin Wright. In looking at the script, it appears to be far more than another stuffy political thriller, and even a possible Oscar contender.
It’s always bothered me why American television doesn’t jump on the miniseries bandwagon in comparison to the BBC. Sure ABC will occasionally do something if it focuses on a subject like 9/11, but other than that the miniseries really seems to be the pariah of television. In 2003 the BBC made the riveting series State of Play, directed by recent Harry Potter director David Yates and starring big English stars like Bill Nighy and David Morrissey. I had the pleasure of watching the show recently and, to me, television is a lot better across the pond. Fortunately, script for the Americanized film remake stays incredibly true to the original, while crafting a very sharp and gripping whodunit for us Yanks.
The story centers on rising politician Stephen Collins, a Republican Congressman crusading to weed out corporations that have their employees fighting in the War on Terror. When a drug dealer and one of Collins’ researchers (a pretty 25-year-old blond), are killed within minutes of each other, it doesn’t seem like A has anything to do with B. Everything changes when it comes to light that Collins was carrying on an affair with the young girl (unlike anything ever before seen in American politics, but go with it). Shift over to the small-time newspaper The Globe, led by powerful editor Cameron Lynne and her head reporter Cal McCaffrey. McCaffrey and Collins have a long-spanning friendship, which seems to be the reporters “in” to figure out what the hell is going on. To say anymore would confuse the hell out of you, but suffice it to say that what follows is two and a half hours (I’m assuming based on the length) of double crosses and secrets that will be sure to tie your head up in knots.
What really raises the series and movie State of Play above other political thrillers like Syriana is how real the characters seem amongst the political backdrop. Every character seems like a real person, they all seem incredibly nice and you could easily be their friend. In looking at the script I think MacDonald gives the film a lot of its realism with its cast, and they will more than have their work cut out for them.
The entire focus of the movie and the BBC drama rests on the character of Stephen Collins played expertly by David Morrissey in the latter version. Originally cast for Edward Norton, he left the project a few months back and is being replaced by Ben Affleck. Now I, for one, love Affleck as an actor/writer/director. The man won an Oscar for writing and crafted an amazing underrated movie in Gone, Baby Gone, but this movie will take him back to his dramatic roots. The role gives him that cocky air but with a sympathetic undercurrent that he put on in Changing Lanes, and it will be great to watch his character rise, fall and then rise again. Almost the entire movie rests on his shoulders, even when he’s not on-screen, and this seems a ready-made comeback if ever there was one.
Affleck though will have to compete for accolades and screen time with another Hollywood heavyweight in Russell Crowe. Crowe will be playing political reporter Cal McCaffrey. Crowe has some pretty big shoes to step into with this role as it was originally envisioned for Brad Pitt. A slight digression here folks, who wouldn’t have loved to see Edward Norton and Brad Pitt reunited in this movie, raise your hands? I can just see Norton and Pitt beating the shit out of each other on Capital Hill, but sadly it’s only a dream. Crowe will be more than able to pull off this role since McCaffrey is pretty much every role Crowe has done in his career. You know that cocky prick with a heart of gold that can make any woman swoon that we’ve seen in every Russell Crowe film…well guess what type of guy he’s playing State of Play? McCaffrey is really a torn man in a constant mode of questionin,g wondering if his best friend has anything to do with this young woman’s murder. By the same coin McCaffrey is in love with Stephen’s wife Anne and that is where the romantic angle comes in. While the role is pretty cliché compared to what Affleck will have to do with his character, I can definitely see Crowe getting some recognition; his character is very much like his role in The Insider, and hell the man won an Oscar for that.
The rest of the cast is filled out with some amazing side characters that make these movie more than just two men trying to one-up each other in Washington. You have Robin Wright Penn playing Anne Collins, the tormented political trophy wife. I’m happy to see Wright-Penn back in big Hollywood blockbusters and this role will more than cement her status. She really has her own character arc in terms of her thoughts and feelings on the events in the movie. Her role in the miniseries, portrayed brilliantly by Polly Walker, was a bit different. In the BBC production Anne had two children and her arc dealt with how her kids would view their father. In the movie Anne has no child which makes her story somewhat interesting in that she feels the media is going after her for not providing a child. Anne is easily the most fleshed out female lead in the movie.
Rachel McAdams probably has the most departure in terms of how she’s shown in the big-screen version. Her character, Della Frye, is very much the “girl reporter.” She gets in a bit of trouble, has Cal help her out and just sits around making the obvious known, which is tragic compared to her character in the BBC version, played by Kelly MacDonald. MacDonald was kick ass, tough as nails and was able to hold her own against the powerhouse of McCaffrey’s ego. In this movie she’s little more than a sidekick and McAdams is way better than that.
I also was surprised in the change in the character of Cal and Della’s boss Cameron. The BBC version had the role filled with English mainstay Bill Nighy, in this we totally switch genders and put in Oscar winner Helen Mirren. This is the most genius casting ever. In the English production Nighy had dry wit and a truly caring attitude, yet with a willingness to verbally destroy you if you crossed him. In this version Mirren steps seamlessly into the role and is a total ball-buster. Mirren’s character steals most of the scenes she’s in and she more than competently enters the role.
My favorite character in the both versions of State of Play has to be forced witness Dominic Foy. Played by Marc Warren in the original. Foy dresses like Elton John and has so many one-liners it’s like your watching a Judd Apatow movie, except without all the explicit dialogue and a snooty English accent. In this new version Foy is set to be played by Michael Bluth himself, Jason Bateman. Bateman is more than able to tow the line between total dick and that guy you just hate to love. Hopefully the directors and all will keep the brilliant scene where we find out Foy’s secret…that he’s gay. Here’s a great snippet from that scene:
Foy blew you? Nine minutes from ‘hello’ to ‘hey now’?
And that’s not a record.
State of Play is great in any capacity, but I thoroughly endorse checking out the BBC miniseries before the movie comes out. Even if you don’t the movie is amazingly faithful to its source. Compared to all the other political thrillers out now, this one has a very human aspect to it. All the characters have lives, lovers, friends, and their actions do have consequences as they do in reality. The ending scene, if done as in the script and mini, will be nothing short of earth-shattering, especially if Affleck has that acting talent that I know is lying there somewhere. April 17th, 2009 cannot come fast enough for me.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.