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State of Play (2009) Print E-mail
Friday, 28 August 2009
Image"State of Play" is based on the BBC miniseries of the same name.  It isn't the first time that the US has adapted British television in US entertainment.  The film gets raving reviews, but as far as the typical audience is concerned, the film is just above average.  If I had to guess why, I would have to say it is that "State of Play" feels much like a reworked "Pelican Brief."  The plot is very similar, all hinging on a political conspiracy theory.

The film stars Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey, a seasoned reporter for the Washington Globe in the nation's capital.  As the film opens we witness one and one half murders.  It is apparent right from the get go that it is going to be a conspiracy film.  Cal is in the thick of it, trying to dig up evidence on his "always right" angle.

Rachel McAdams plays Della Frye, a newbie reporter that writes blogs for the online version of the newspaper.  When Congressman Collins (Ben Affleck) is caught up in a scandal that involves an affair with his recently murdered research assistant, Frye approaches McAffrey for information.  McAffrey is the ex-college roommate of Collins.  Spurning her advances, Collins shows up at McAffrey's place as his wife kicks him out.

When photographic evidence turns up, indicating that there is a connection between the opening murder and the research assistant, McAffrey teams up with Frye.  Frye covers the research assistant angle, while McAffrey tries to dig deeper into the political scandal, a private corporation that is attempting to take over domestic homeland security.

"State of Play" has several twists and turns, but unfortunately, nothing that you couldn't guess is coming with a little extra brainpower.  The film only requires your undivided attention so that you are sure not to miss minor plots segments that add up to larger issues instead of being worthy of your full attention.  In fact, if you watch the film a second time you will likely fall asleep during the now evident tedious segments.

The film's visual style is much like that of the Bourne movies.  The camera is rarely mounted on a tripod.  The shaky nature of the camera movements is unnecessary in a lot of the segments.  There are several odd focus pulls.  It has been quite some time since I have seen obvious focus changes in the single shot. Director Kevin Macdonald has not had much in the way of blockbuster experience.  His previous credits are relegated to B-movies.  His lack of major motion picture making is evident in this film.  Tony Gilroy did the writing for this film.  He also wrote and directed the recently released movie, "Duplicity."   The films are remarkably similar in the writing.  The plot twists and suspense hold unfolded in nearly the same ways.  Both films are conspiracies and both films keep your attention simply because you are afraid you are going to miss something in stead of being truly intent on what you are watching.

The film comes to Blu-ray with a VC-1 encode and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  The video quality is technically competent, but the visual style of the filmmaking does not make for an attention grabbing Blu-ray transfer.  The film is relatively dark.  While black levels are quite strong, shadow delineation is average at best.  Anything that takes place in the shadows is lost.  You rely simply on the overall outcome of the scene than actually being able to watch it.  Likewise, details are swallowed up in the shadows, as are textures.  However, that being said, the details and textures during the nicely lit segments are quite impressive.  The newsroom contains easily readable content in the form of clippings hanging on the wall.  Costumes are nicely textured.  While the black levels are deep, there is some crushing going on.  Colors are limited to the palette chosen by the filmmakers.  Generally, the colors are subdued.  However, some of the day interior shots contain nice colors.  Fleshtones are accurate.  Technically speaking, the transfer does not suffer from banding or artifacting issues.  Grain is minimal, with the exception of the night shots.  While this transfer won't leave in awe, it is technically competent.

The audio track is limited by the original sound design, as well as haunted by some technical issues.  As per usual, Universal has included a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track.  You will notice a lack of LFE signal.  It pops in occasionally with the music score, but that is about it.  That said, the dialogue is crisp and clear, nicely anchored in the center channel.  The surround channels are not engaging.  However, they do contain some ambience content.  While the content is there, the rear channels have been mastered too low in volume.  The overall volume level of the audio track is lower than normal.  Any discreet effects are not engaging.  The effects are rather poorly placed and panning is sluggish and messy.  The film remains largely front heavy.  Sadly, this track is not as immersive as it should be for a mystery/suspense film.  Still, technically, it is better than a lossy audio track.

In terms of special features, the disc does not come with much.  There are only a couple of deleted scenes.  There is a standard making-of featurette.  Exclusive to the Blu-ray is Universal's U-Control section.  There is a picture-in-picture function that contains behind the scenes footage and interviews.  Also in this section is a historical look at the locations used in Washington D.C. for the film.  The disc is also BD-Live enabled.  That's all she wrote.

"State of Play" is a good film, but it does not have all the elements necessary to make it an attention grabbing suspense film.  The video and audio quality are technically competent, but they are limited by the visual and audio design and intentions.  The disc and movie are worth a look.

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