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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: State of Play

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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Scott McAllister

Scott McAllister

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Posted September 01 2009 - 12:46 PM

State of Play

Studio: Universal
Year: 2009
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 128 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Languages: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren

The Film

The key to a good thriller is misdirection.  Just like the master magicians who keep you looking at their hands instead of the box of swords, an effective head-fake can make or break an entire movie.  All too often, thriller/mystery films ending up falling short because the filmmaker loses sight of this all-too-effective necessity.  Happily, State of Play does not suffer from this shortcoming and consequently ends up as tight, well paced suspense film.

Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) is a veteran reporter for a D.C. newspaper.  He's grizzled, gruff, experienced, and a bit of a slob: the first thing we see him doing on screen is stuffing his face haphazardly with a bag of Cheetos from behind the wheel of a mid-90s Saab that's far past it's prime.  He's also an expert at what he does, and uses his extensive list of experience-gained contacts to uncover the facts of the story.

He also has the (un)fortunate honor of claiming rising star congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) as a college roommate and old friend.  Stephen is practically Cal's polar opposite: he's a composed, handsome up-and-coming politician who controls a room just by entering it.  Stephen's life is all about making decisions that affect the country, Cal's life is all about reporting those decisions to the public.

Cal's world is thrown into a slowly progressive chaos when one of Stephen's research aides is killed in what appears to be a subway accident.  He's already working on an unrelated story about an earlier murder the night before when the company's new blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) comes to prod him for information on his old roommate after the leak that Stephen had been sleeping with his newly-deceased aide.  This initially adversarial relationship gradually changes to one of true professionalism as Cal and Della work together to find the link between their two stories and uncover the real truth behind the murders.

Cal McCaffery is the heart and soul of State of Play, and Crowe goes to great lengths to give him an interesting personality.  His work space and apartment are messy and unkempt, but it belies the precision he brings to his work.  Thanks to Crowe's interpretation, it's clear that Cal loves what he does, but he's also fighting against the overwhelming tide of change.  The newspaper industry as a whole is slowly dying, and Cal is a product of the old-world.  His focus is on getting the facts right, which is stark contrast to the newspaper company's new owners who are concerned mostly with sales volume.  He clashes with Della Frye frequently, as she represents the new web-based attitude of "publish first, research and amend later".

Helen Mirren is equally as good in her brief appearances as Cal's editor, Cameron Lynne.  As much a product of the old-school as Cal, she's under constant pressure from the new owners to delivery a story that's going to get people buying the paper.  Mirren's take on Cameron is sharp and snarky, but there's a hint of melancholy underneath that British wit over the changing of the guard.

Kudos should also be given to director Kevin Macdonald for his deft handling of the story here.  He adapted different shooting styles for each of Cal and Stephen's scenes, with subtle changes for each character.  Cal's shots are often hand-held or steady-cam, which give the viewer a sense of inclusion and "man-on-the-street".  This filming style is very loose and raw by its very nature, and it helps convey Cal's mentality very well.  Stephen's scenes, on the other hand, are very composed.  There's no shake in the camera, and each scene is set to look pre-planned and carefully arranged.  Stephen's is a world based on order, and the look equals that.

Picture Quality

State of Play on DVD looks great, and the city of Washington D.C. looks as good as it can given the format.  The film is meant to have a gritty feel, and the PQ conveys that through darkened wet alleys and cramped office spaces.  It's all very down and dirty, and very believeable.  Viewers will not be disapointed.

Audio Quality

I am pleased with the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.  It's not sensational, but the source material doesn't really support a lot of whizbang effects and the like.  Dialogue is strongly focused on the center channel as it should be, and the very occasional effect (like reverb in the congressional hall) is handled through the rear surrounds.

Special Features

For a such an enjoyable movie, the special features on this release are non-existant.  I'm sincerely hoping that Universal isn't holding out more goodies for an eventual double-dip release.

-Deleted Scenes.  A few minutes worth of deleted scenes that are definitely better suited out of the final cut.

-The Making of State of Play.  This is an acceptable featurette, but there's not much here that hasn't been seen or heard before.  It's mostly the same softball questions  ("Tell us about your character.") with the usual answers.  Worth watching once, but that's about it.

Wrapping Up

State of Play is a tightly edited, well constructed thriller.  The trickiest part about writing a review for a suspense/mystery film is knowing what to say and what to leave out.  Almost everything in State of Play becomes crucial to the plot at some point or another, so I'm leaving all of the spoilers out here.  Suffice to say, I found myself strongly looking left when the punch from the right caught me off-guard.  I believe other viewers will get the same enjoyment from State of Play as I did, and I'm recommending it fully.
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