Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Conspiracy Thrilla

I've just got back from the press showing on the Hollywood remake of State of Play. And, I am sad to have to report to you - dear blog reader - that, actually, it was really rather good. I mean, I so wanted to hate it. As a huge fan of the TV series on which the movie is - quite closely - based, I wanted to loathe it with a passion. To curse it and all it stood for and spit on its works from a great height. I'm, therefore, somewhat pissed off and conflicted that I can't, in all conscience, do just that. Bah. I get annoyed when that happens.

To sum up, a brief history of time: State of Play was a six-part TV serial made by the BBC and created and written by the great Paul Abbott which was broadcast - to huge acclaim - in 2003. It told the story a reporter (John Simm) investigating the apparent suicide of a female research assistant to a friend of his, a rising-star MP (David Morrissey) currently heading an energy subcommittee investigating the activities of the oil industry. The reporter, Cal McCaffrey, subsequently uncovers something far more sinister than what the story initially seems to be about - a simple tale of sexual indescression. The mini-series also starred Bill Nighy, James McAvoy, Kelly Macdonald, Marc Warren and Phil Glenister and was stunning. I mean breath-takingly good. If you've never seen it, then get thee - instantly - to an HMV or an online equivalent and buy a copy of the DVD. I picked mine up for, like, three quid or something. It's as good as Our Friends in the North or House of Cards (to which it bears a minor resemblence) or Edge of Darkness. As good as Life on Mars or the best bits of Doctor Who or The West Wing. It's that good.

Anyway, when it was announced that the film rights has been sold to Hollywood my heart sank. 'Oh dear,' I thought, 'this is going to be The Avengers movie all over again!' But, thankfully, they went for a fabulous director with a great track record - Kevin MacDonald (who made the Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September and the Oscar-winning Idi Amin drama The Last King of Scotland). MacDonald has made what he clearly regards as an All The President's Men for the Twenty First Century (with more than a bit of JFK thrown in for good measure). To aid him in this he managed to assemble some really good actors in his cast including Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn, Rachel McAdams, Jeff Daniels, Dollhouse's Harry Lennix and, best of all, Russell Crowe (who is simply tremendous as the reporter). The story is transplanted to Washington and now concerns private arms contractors. But, aside from a few characters either having their parts reduced, disappearing completely (James McAvoy's role, for instance) - or, in the case of Bill Nighy's dry, cynical editor becoming Helen Mirren's dry, cynical editor undergoing a sex-change - despite the squeezing of the story from six hours down to two it ends up a pretty straight-forward adaptation all the way to the unexpectedly (un-Hollywood style) downbeat ending. They even kept most of the character names the same although, for some weird reason McCaffrey becomes McAffrey. So, grudgingly, I congratulate all of those concerned. Shut me right up, that did. For the most part, anyway.

Thankfully, however, they didn't entirely let me down. The film is - almost fatally - undermined by one of the most woefully inept bits of miscasting in the history of major studio movies. A completely out-of-his-depth Ben Affleck in the David Morrissey role who possesses neither the passion or the sense of bewilderment that David brought to the original. Hollywood, you beauty. I knew I could rely on you to screw up somewhere along the line!

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