I attended a pre-release screening of the new film, State of Play, with anticipation of seeing both quality work from actor Russell Crowe and screenwriter Tony Gilroy. I also entered the theater with a degree of apprehension about how well this feature length film would measure up to the brilliantly acted and crafted six-part BBC series that was the basis for the film. Crowe well-embodied the tenacious old-school investigative journalist that we've come to know from classics, such as "All the President's Men." However, the multifaceted ensemble of journalists, portrayed by a rich range of actors from the BBC series (John Simm, Kelly MacDonald, James McAvoy), is missing from this feature film where Russell Crowe does all the work. The complexity of the plot, which includes the competing professional interests and emotional needs of the characters in the British miniseries, is largely eliminated in this big screen version. Ben Affleck and Robin Wright Penn do not seem to appreciate and respond to the high stakes events that could turn their lives inside out and upside down. What this film shares with the miniseries is the glimpse into the mechanics of running a journalistic investigation under the pressure of time and editorial interference, but the personal stories suffer from not being fleshed out and made to feel real and compelling to watch. It is not fair to compare one piece of art to another, but when two productions are related, and you've seen the original, it is difficult to view the second production without prejudice. It is like trying to unring a bell.
The new film, State of Play, is a convincing thriller, but it fails to also deliver as a richly defined character drama.
Curiosity will drive those who saw the BBC series to see this film, and the rich pedigree of the film production will draw in those who know nothing about the original miniseries. Everyone will ultimately be satisfied by seeing both productions (miniseries is on DVD) so that they can make the comparisons and connections that any thinking film-goer will want to do.