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You Call It Movie: State of Play

September 12, 2009

After having now seen both versions of “State of Play,” Paul Abbott’s original 6 episode miniseries for BBC and the more recently Americanized film starring Russell Crowe, I’m in a quandry to make a call one way or another.  The term “Americanization” when it comes to conversions of British films or television should mean “euthanization” instead.  Most don’t make the cut.  There is the fact that the Brits allow more directness with regards to sex in their television than the FCC and primetime normally allow.  Then there’s sensationalism.  American producers just seem to think that we Americans need more violence, more action, more sex, well ok less sex but…more of everything else.

How do you take your suspense?

How do you take your suspense?

It doesn’t help that I’m an avowed Anglophile with my TV tuned to BBC America and DVR catching every flavor of Masterpiece Mystery! now being offered whether hosted by Alan Cumming or Diana Rigg.  So given all that, I’ll lay out the groundwork and, on the eve of the first Sunday of American football, ask that YOU MAKE THE CALL!

State of Play” the miniseries and the movie all start with the same basic story:  a government committee leader seeks the help of his journalist friend in investigating the death of the officials staff member and secret lover.  In the Brit version, the Parliament member is played by David Morrissey and the journalist by John Simm (who’s had a second series of his converted, unsuccesfully, to TV screens with Life on Mars), with a supporting cast that includes James McAvoy (pre-Atonement), Philip Glenister (also from Life on Mars), and a award winning Bill Nighy as the journalist’s under siege editor.

The American version boasts always credible Russell Crowe as the journalist and a somewhat juvenile Ben Affleck as the congressman.  Supported by solid cast like Jeff Daniels, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, and Henry Lennix, the film is also buoyed by a refreshingly apt rewrite of the junior journalist’s role played by Rachel McAdams to a newspaper blogger.  The casting director seemed to have overplayed her hand by calling in Helen Mirren to play the editor role that won Nighy won a BATA.

Beyond that, I’m not going to fill you in on the story as that is part of what makes both pieces work.  They both relay the same mystery and tension great

With milk and honey, please!

With milk and honey, please!

suspense thillers should.  By virtue of it being a miniseries (and being I’d watched during its original US broadcast), the Brit version slow-plays some of the fundamental details of the story, letting the tension build up over a few episodes.  It’s episodic nature guarantees the tension gets drawn out, leaving you waiting and wondering where the plot will go next.  That sense may be different in the DVD version.  However, they still had more time to work through the more emotional aspects of the story, letting revelations sink in jsut a little before ripping the bandage off with another mind-blower.  I recollect the series as addicting television drama that I couldn’t wait the see what happened next and was so fully satisfied with, I wanted more, even when the story was over.

The film version doesn’t have that much time to be able to handle the compleixty of the plot and I really wonder how consummable it all is for those uninitiated with the original.  And while Crowe and Mirren do their best to reign in their amazing talents, you get the sense from scene to scene that they are phoning it on.  Which isn’t a rag on the other acting work.  Rachel McAdams is highlighted well in the beginning but as the story progresses, her input seems to be marginalized, as much from plot points as from screen time.  Ben Affleck’s performance is both on target and somewhat dubious for me, admittedly because Morrisssey’s embattled lawmaker seemed effortless and engaging.

On it’s own, without the other to taint opinion, I think most will enjoy “State of Play” as it still holds the incredible story and presents it in a solid, enjoyable manner and I recommend it.  But this writer would rather you Netflix or pick up the DVD version of the original “State of Play” if only to revel in the hours of knuckle-gripping drama.  But you make that call.

“State of Play” the BBC miniseries is available on DVDState of Play the film is now available on both Pay Per View and DVD.

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