"State of Play" (2002)

John Simm (Cal McCaffrey), Kelly Macdonald (Della Smith), Bill Nighy (Cameron Foster), Philip Glenister (DCI William Bell), David Morrissey (Stephen Collins), James McAvoy (Dan Foster)

IMDB: A thriller set in London, in which a politician's life becomes increasingly complex as his research assistant is found dead on the London Underground and, in a seemingly unrelated incident, a teenage drug dealer is shot dead.

My John Simm train keeps on rolling! After finishing "Life on Mars" and "Ashes to Ashes," Keven informed me that we had a six-part miniseries called "State of Play." I didn't see the connection until I looked at the holy-moly incredible cast. Bring it on!

A side note: What is it with American production companies re-doing British drama? It happened with "Life on Mars," and the six-hour "State of Play" was recently vaguely translated into a two-hour American version starring Russell Crow and Ben Affleck. Really? John Simm replaced by Russell Crowe? That's like asking me if I'd prefer chocolate or mud. I'm almost curious to see it just so I can take the piss and feel morally superior. I need that sometimes. But seriously, this is the sort of miniseries that should be on HBO--or at the very least PBS. Instead it's remade and released with no publicity...oh, and still makes over $100 million worldwide. I give up.

On to the review!

What works so well about this mini series overall is the interplay between large-scale events and personal problems. The story begins with a double murder. The two cases do not appear related. As the investigation progresses, we see the truth expand upward into realms of corporate life and government, as well as downward into very personal connections between some of the players. The head investigative journalist is good friends with the boss of one of the victims. That key relationship between the characters betrayed by John Simm and David Morrissey affects the entire progression of the investigation.

Without that key relationship, very few of the events that unfolded would have happened. Certainly very little of the truth would have been exposed. I like the idea that a single coincidence--that these two men would eventually find themselves in such a position--can affect so many lives. In no way did that single coincidence stretched the bounds of credulity. It was just enough to give the impression that a great many of the truths, histories and stories that we know could have been similarly affected by simple human relationships.

Other relationships also affected the investigation, such as Dan Foster's relationship with his father, the newspaper editor Cameron Foster, and reporter Della Smith's burgeoning trust with DCI William Bell. Issues of credibility, past mistakes, idealism versus career and financial practicalities, misconceptions, and respect all played in to how the case was investigated by both journalists and the police. Without any of the key players, the truth would not have been uncovered. Not only does this provide an excellent sense of realism with regard to team play--no superheroes here, not even among the leads--but that human beings when working together have the potential to make one another better.

The narrative, when seen in its entirety, actually hearkens back to the best tragedies. The villains are not entirely villainous. The heroes are not entirely heroic. And there are a great many fools who make us laugh despite the unpleasantness of events. This is why I question the two-hour adaptation's ability to successfully present the same level of depth and nuance. I imagine that narrowed down to two hours, many of the shades of gray would be forced to pick a side. I really enjoyed the luxury of sitting back for these fat, sumptuous six hours and letting the storytellers take us on a journey that was truly worthy of my complete attention.

Again I'd like to stress not only the writing and direction, but the performances. John Simn plays at beta character, much as he did in "Life on Mars," but without the same heroic surefooted quality. He makes mistakes. His judgment is often impaired. But when he walked into the newsroom with the final, condemning piece of evidence against the guilty party, he did the right thing. I got the impression that not a great deal about his life would change after this experience. He would miraculously become a more selfless person or open his heart to love and second chances. The realism of this writing suggested that it was the best he could do in just seeing the truth be told. And for the moment, in his life, that was a victory. Very few actors can portray strong betas like John Simm. He continues to be a marvel.

Bill Nighy was utterly fantastic, treading the line between malicious and benevolence. James McAvoy played his son to a tee, with even some of the same mannerisms and the penchant to make jokes in our places. Kelly MacDonald had the posture and voice of a woman who could barely order fast food at the drive-thru without being completely ignored, and yet her character was probably the most steadfast and tenacious of the lot. David Morrissey carried himself with a certain sense of entitlement that never strayed toward complete arrogance or unlikability. And it was refreshing to see Philip Glenister play a DCI other than Gene Hunt--ie more realistic and modern--and with his own London accent! Oh, and I feel compelled to write to Ronald D. Moore and tell him to stop making Polly Walker (Clarice in "Caprica") so stiff and weird. She's an intensely charismatic onscreen presence...when she's allowed to be!

Conclusion: good stuff! Go see! I'm on a hot streak with regard to TV of late. I wonder what I should check out next...


Verona St. James said...

The remake is horrible. It felt like a six-hour movie even though it was only two or so. Horrible pacing. Wooden characters. I was glad when it was over I'd let my date buy my ticket so I hadn't actually wasted money on it.

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Damn you. Something else to buy.