Blu-Ray Review: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck in Thriller ‘State of Play’

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CHICAGO – I had some issues with “State of Play” in theaters, but it’s an intelligent thriller that is bound to find an audience on DVD and Blu-Ray and the Universal-produced Blu-Ray of the Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck film is an excellent one, the kind of release that can polish a good film and make it nearly great. Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0

The American “State of Play” is a truncated version of the far-superior BBC mini-series that starred Bill Nighy, David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, and James MacAvoy. Directed by Kevin Macdonald and starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, and Robin Wright Penn, this version of “State of Play” stands pretty well on its own merits, especially on Blu-Ray, but it’s merely a shadow of its amazing source material.

State of Play was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 1st, 2009.
State of Play was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 1st, 2009.
Photo credit: Universal Home Video

Cramming so much material into one film has made for a movie that certainly wastes no time. “State of Play” is a jam-packed 128 minutes. It opens with scenes of a junkie and an innocent bystander getting shot in the nation’s capital and the separate death of a Congressman’s aide (Maria Thayer) by commuter train. The aide was not only working with U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Affleck) on his quest to take down a Halliburton-esque company but the two were sleeping together.

State of Play was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 1st, 2009.
State of Play was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 1st, 2009.
Photo credit: Universal Home Video

Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), who also happens to be old friends with Collins and in love with his wife (Robin Wright Penn), realizes that the drug/bystander shooting he’s investigating and the death of the politician’s girlfriend are related and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Rachel McAdams plays a young reporter who first butts heads with the more old-fashioned Cal but soon becomes partners as the case gets deeper and deeper. Helen Mirren plays their editor.

The best thing about “State of Play” is the cast. Director Macdonald proved he knows how to direct actors when he guided Forest Whitaker to an Oscar for “The Last King of Scotland” and everyone is good here. Crowe is in nearly every scene and it’s his best performance in some time. Mirren doesn’t quite make the impact that Nighy did in the original but that’s merely because of screen time. With perhaps the small exception of the slightly miscast McAdams, everyone in “State of Play” is good to great.

It took three talented writers - Matthew Michael Carnahan (“The Kingdom”), Tony Gilroy (“Duplicity”), & Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass”) - to take a six-hour mini-series and whittle it down to a two-hour film. Some of the choices, especially in the final act, simply don’t work for me. They take a mini-series that was about gray areas and makes it a bit too black and white for my tastes. The final act piles revelation on top of twist and it doesn’t feel organic. It feels rushed.

“State of Play” is about how the world of journalism and politics have become intertwined. The lines between good guys and bad guys and between the people who work in DC and the people who cover it are blurry at best. Crowe’s character becomes a bit too much of a white knight of journalism in the remake but it’s still a well-made, well-paced thriller. There’s a lot to like here, even if everyone who’s seen the original might say there could have been more.

The Blu-Ray release of “State of Play” is a beauty, another notch in the belt for arguably the best Blu-Ray studio in Hollywood, Universal. The standard Universal video and audio transfer is one of the absolute best and “State of Play” looks perfect with a 1080p High-Definition Widescreen transfer of a 2.35:1 picture and an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.

Special features on “State of Play” include deleted scenes and “The Making of State of Play”. U-Control features include the company’s great “Picture in Picture” technology that allows scene-specific information to play without breaking the film and “Washington, D.C. Locations” offers history insight into the nation’s capital. “State of Play” should have included a commentary track, but with so much action crammed into one movie maybe no one could keep up with talking about it.

‘State of Play’ is released by Universal Home Video and stars Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, and Helen Mirren. It was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray and directed by Kevin Macdonald. The Blu-Ray and DVD will be released on September 1st, 2009. It is rated PG-13. content director Brian Tallerico

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