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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: State of Play



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#1 of 4 Kevin EK

Kevin EK

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Posted September 03 2009 - 05:47 PM

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STATE
OF PLAY
 
Studio: Universal
Film Year: 2009
Film Length: 2 hours 8 mins
Genre: Newspaper Investigation/Government Conspiracy Thriller
 
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
 
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: VC-1 @ over 30 mpbs
Color/B&W: Color
 
Audio:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 @ an average 3.5 mbps (higher for action sequences)
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
 
 
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG-13 (Some Violence, Language Including Sexual References, Brief Drug Content)
 
Release Date: September 1, 2009
 
Starring:  Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels and Helen Mirren
 
Based on the BBC Television Series Created by Paul Abbott
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Billy Ray and Tony Gilroy
Directed by: Kevin MacDonald
 
Film Rating:    2/5
 
State of Play initally appears to be a classy thriller with all the right ingredients. It’s got a solid cast, a script by some of the brighter minds around, an intelligent director, and it’s based on a crackerjack BBC miniseries. Its story is an easy one to see working, even transplanted to American soil – a Washington DC newspaper’s investigations into a double shooting and the apparent suicide of a congressional aide uncover a tangled web of government and corporate corruption. (Clearly riffing from the paranoia of 70s classics like All The President’s Men and Chinatown,  the film clearly indicts mega-contractors like Blackwater and the politicians that get too cozy with them.) The movie is inventively shot, with the newspaper side of the film (read: Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams) being captured on film and the government side of the film (read: Ben Affleck and Jeff Daniels) being captured on HD cameras, thus giving the political scenes a sharper, deeper-focused look than the deliberately messy look of the reporters trying to find out what is going on. And it’s got some great moments of action and tension, including one surprising bit of gunplay. 
 
So what went wrong here? Because when you add the pieces together, they simply don’t add up to that great of a movie in the end. My own reaction is that the film simply tries too hard to keep coming up with twists and surprise revelations to create a really solid mystery.  As is common with most TV mysteries these days, the mystery here appears to have been designed to keep viewers guessing up to the final minutes what the next surprise twist will be. And I’ve come to expect that from television – I’m used to the conceit that nobody tells the truth in Act One and that the guy who says early on,  “I’ve never met that woman before”, will change his tune in Act Three when the incriminating photos get shown to him. But it’s just disheartening to see that kind of story logic being applied in a film with this level of talent and proficiency. I’m sure fans of Russell Crowe will still enjoy his latest performance here – he’s clearly having a good time playing an older, grayer and heavier character than we’ve seen him do in the past. And Rachel McAdams does well as a young blog reporter who learns a thing or two about old-fashioned analogue reporting from Crowe’s character. And there are a few surprise performances laced throughout, including Jason Bateman’s latest character contribution and a shockingly underused Barry Shabaka Henley. But I honestly think that any viewer will feel they’ve seen enough with a single viewing of the film, and I really can’t recommend more than a rental here.
 
State of Play has been released simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition this Tuesday. The Blu-ray has the high definition transfer in picture and sound, a bookmarking function, and BD-Live access. Additional features include about 3 ½ minutes of deleted scenes, a nearly 20 minute EPK-style series of interviews with the cast, director and creative staff, and a pair of PIP U-Control features that provide additional EPK interview and set video, and a mapping feature that displays where major sequences take place in DC or were filmed . 
 
 
VIDEO QUALITY   3 ½/5
State of Play is presented in a 1080p VC-1 2.35:1 transfer that provides solid black levels for the numerous scenes in the shadows, dark or night, and provides a pleasing array of accurate flesh tones throughout. Sharp-eyed viewers will be able to spot the difference between the film sequences and the HD sequences, just from the depth of field and the smoother look of the polished government corridors. I should note that I watched the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is noticing problems, please reply within this thread.
 
 
AUDIO QUALITY   3 ½/5
State of Play is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French. Given the type of film, the sound mix tends to live in the front channels for the lengthy dialogue throughout, but brings the surrounds and the subwoofer to life for various musical elements and for the action scenes. Dialogue is mostly clear, although I admit needing to turn on subtitles occasionally – particularly during exchanges between Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren in the newsroom.
 
SPECIAL FEATURES      2 ½/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of State of Play comes with a couple of SD deleted scenes, an HD EPK featurette and a couple of U-Control PIP features . And there is the usual BD-Live, “My Scenes” and D-Box functionality.
 
Deleted Scenes (3:39, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – Two deleted scenes – more like scene extensions – are included here, including additional moments with Robin Wright Penn in a press conference scene fairly early on in the film. The performances are nice, but there’s nothing essential here, and there’s nothing to suggest that a better story structure or resolution was filmed along the way. 
 
The Making of State of Play (18:45, 1080i) – This is a really fluffy featurette that includes interview material with most of the cast (including Crowe and McAdams), the director, and some creative staff including one of the producers, the wardrobe designer and members of the art department. Some interesting detail is provided about the dual camera formats employed by Kevin MacDonald and Roderick Prieto, and it’s fun to see the newspaper room set in close-up, but there really isn’t much substance here.
 
U-Control PIP – When U-Control is engaged, the viewer has the option to turn on a series of additional PIP interview and on-set videos as the movie plays. From what I can tell, this is the rest of the material shot for the featurette, only presented within the body of the film itself. I’m sure there are some interesting tidbits here and there, but what I saw didn’t tend to address the scenework directly at hand but rather just piled in more EPK footage. 
 
U-Control Washington DC Locations – This 2nd U-Control feature is a little more interesting, in that it allows the viewer to access a PIP Google Earth image and footage of the various locations either depicted in the film or actually shot for it.
  
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.
 
D-Box – For viewers with this system installed in their home theater, this Blu-ray can make use of it.
 
 
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features. A full chapter menu is available for the film.  The Blu-ray menus also include the “My Scenes” bookmarking feature and a BD-Live User Guide.
 
IN THE END...
State of Play is a movie I really looked forward to seeing, given the talent that went into its production. And yet the film simply does not deliver the punch promised by the ingredients. The picture and sound are solid, as I would expect from a Blu-ray release, but the film itself just doesn’t hold up, and the additional features are not enough for me to recommend more than a rental for fans of Crowe, Affleck and McAdams.
 
Kevin Koster
September 3, 2009.


#2 of 4 Southpaw

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Posted September 04 2009 - 01:24 AM

 Wow, I disagree with just about this entire review. I thought the movie was very good with a nice, tight script, good acting and direction. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I thought picture and audio quality were well above average. You have to keep in mind that PQ differed throughout the movie as an artistic choice to highlight the differences between Crowe's and Affleck's characters.
Was it perfect? No. I though Wright Penn's character was underdeveloped and underutilized. Does it have one too many gotchas? I didn't think so. The ending twist made sense to me and didn't feel added on.
The one thing I do agree with is replay value. Once you have seen this one, it certainly would lose its impact on repeat viewings. So in that regard, a rental makes sense. 

#3 of 4 Kevin EK

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Posted September 04 2009 - 04:19 AM

Jason,

I'm sure there will be many people who disagree with this review, and I welcome the discussion.  I should say, though, that I wasn't putting down the video and sound quality.  As you and I both noted, it was a specific and intentional choice to use the different formats.

On the subject of too many gotchas, I still remember a story in the LA Times from about 10 years ago, which discussed the basic plot formula of Law & Order.  It had the whole thing down pat, complete with the quip in the opening when finding the body, and the typical situation of key suspects in Act One lying during questioning.  Of course, if people told the truth in Act One, you wouldn't have an Act Three because they'd already be in jail, right?

#4 of 4 Scott McAllister

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Posted September 04 2009 - 07:48 AM

On the topic of "gotchas", you bring up a good point Kevin.  While I was watching the film for my review I couldn't help but notice that I zeroed in immediately on what I thought was going to eventually be the big reveal in Act 3.  I actually wrote "too predictable" on my notepad.

I debated for a while on whether the apparent obviousness of the mystery was intentional or not, and ultimately I erred on the side of it being on purpose.  In any event, I don't think it really matters.  The film is not nearly as clever as some of the classics like The Usual Suspects, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for trying.

Good review mate!

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