‘State of Play’ a thrilling, complex look at politics

No film cut from its original six hours to two can be as good as the source material, and that is simply the problem of State of Play. While it is a worthy film and likely one of the best of the year thus far, it pales in comparison to the 2003 British miniseries on which it is based.

While not exactly a known entity in the United States, the six-hour-long miniseries is almost mythical on the other side of the Atlantic. A searing look at how politics and journalism intersect, the original was a complex, dazzling thriller that was completely captivating.

As a result, the American remake, starring Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck, feels a little superficial. Its truncated running time makes it impossible to really delve into the machinations of its characters. Though it is certainly compelling, and director Kevin Macdonald’s decision to adapt the screenplay to include a Blackwater-esque defense firm was wise, State of Play feels rushed. As soon as one devotes the time and energy to caring about its characters, the film is almost over.

The story remains essentially the same – a congressional researcher dies mysteriously, and two journalists explore her connections to a nefarious firm investigated by her boss – but many subplots were cut in favor of running time. Understandable, yes, but a little misguided. The best parts of the film are, shockingly, the actors in bit parts: Jeff Daniels as a congressional leader, Jason Bateman as a public relations agent and David Harbour as a corporate informant all fare far better than the leads. Perhaps most disappointingly, Helen Mirren is absolutely wasted in her role as a newspaper editor.

State of Play treats journalism with far more reverence than the industry has received in recent years. In the film, journalists are dogged heroes who pursue the truth relentlessly, and for that alone, the film is worth seeing. For those without prior knowledge of the original, State of Play is absolutely thrilling. For those with extra time or piqued interest, the original is certainly preferable.

Rating: 3/4 stars