State Of Play [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (12th September 2009).
The Film

"State of Play" is a type of film I haven't seen in a while, it's a brilliant and well paced political thriller with a sharp edge on it's dramatic roots. Based on a six-part BBC television mini-series of the same name, this version adapts it for the American market and directed by Kevin Macdonald coming off his successful previous film "The Last King of Scotland" (2006) which earned the filmmaker major kudos from industry peers and critics. He continues his solid approach to film making here and delivers an excellent film worthy of your attention.

"State of Play" starts out with two seemingly unconnected crimes occurring, a thief is killed in an alley and a Congressman's assistant dies in the subway. But journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) doesn't seem to think these events are unrelated. Cal has a past with the Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) and the conflict of interest he works with a young blog journalist Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to unravel the mystery surrounding these incidents while offering sage-like advice to the impressionable reporter. They being begin to uncover something bigger than the two of them and Cal must decide whether risking his life is worth breaking this story.

"State of Play" is a wonderful analysis of the state of printed media today, with the decline of truly inspiring investigative journalism in favor of blog-format journalism being an obvious topic. We get a look at what made the "old-school" so interesting, as we follow Crowe's Cal McAffrey, a wise-man of the printed world play a Yoda type character to the young and impressionable Della Frye. He takes the young blogger through her paces in uncovering the suspected conspiracy and effectively molding her into an investigative journalist, what follows is a back and forth thriller that pulls viewers in with its intellect in plotting and equally gifted dialogue by scribes Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray (all of which are no strangers to the genre). It certainly doesn't glamorize the profession but manages to instill a long forgotten respect for it, the thrill of the story and breaking that all important headline.

Matching the words are the usual crop of solid performances from its A-list cast that include Russell Crowe sinking into a comfortable character that he's not only capable of playing but is entirely believable. Meanwhile Helen Mirren makes the perfect Antithesis to Crowe and manages to maintain a powerful presence. Rachel McAdams needs to be in more movies, she's a bright spark in this otherwise middle-aged cast and offers up a fresh young voice in dramatic actresses working today, yet she also brings a maturity that's well past her own years. It's compliment enough to say she holds her own among this group of heavy hitters. I've also always liked Ben Affleck, even though he's made some terrible movie choices in the past, with the right characters, material and a good director at the helm, Affleck can deliver and he does so here as the Congressman in the middle of the conspiracy. We also get the usual dependable turns from Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman and Jeff Daniels.

It would be easy to go off the rails here, there's plenty of key elements that have to be so finely crafted that they fit together like a puzzle, one piece goes astray and the entire film's plot can collapse, but director Kevin Macdonald manages to reign it in and control the flow with precision and matched with the excellent performances makes "State of Play" a solid film and offers up viewers an intelligent option in the video queues.

"State of Play" harkens back to the great political thrillers of days gone by like "All The President's Men" (1976), I highly recommend this richly rewarding film that I hope will find a broader audience on home video, even if the films does feel like a "Hollywood" production through and through with its one too many twists and star-studded line-up it, it actually has some substance and after watching a slew of summer brain-crushers it was nice to revisit this film once again.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this high-definition transfer comes to us in 1080p 24/fps and utilizing VC-1 compression codec. The resulting image is a splendidly sharp and well balanced picture that we've come to expect from a recent release. The detail looks great right down to intricate production design elements, texture equally look good as we can see the heft of Crowe's tweed jackets. Colors are appropriately muted as aesthetically designed by the cinematographer, skin tones appear natural, grain is minimal but is retained adding weight to the image. Black levels are brilliantly bold and deep, and I spotted no compression problems, no edge-enhancement or artifacts, no specks or dirt, it's a solid HD image that presents the film wonderfully.

Audio

Three audio tracks are featured on this disc in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as DTS 5.1 surround tracks in both French and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio. The film is mainly dialogue driven but there's plenty of ambient opportunities that provide an immersive sound experience for home video. The dialogue is clear and distortion free, ambient sounds are well mixed within the space and all feel natural, as does directional sounds, score and more aggressive sound elements surrounding gun shots among other things all feel hefty and robust.
Optional subtitles are featured in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Universal haven't exactly packed this release with extras, but there's some here worth your time. We get a featurette, deleted scenes, as well as some "U-Control" extras such as a picture-in-picture video commentary, an interactive mode, bookmarks and BD-Live access. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is "The Making of State of Play" a featurette that runs for 18 minutes 45 seconds and is the usual run-of-the-mill promotional EPK that covers the basics of the production, features the usual behind-the-scenes footage and interviews from the key cast and crew as they comment on the film, their roles and story among other things. I would have much preferred a more in-depth look at the adaptation process of turning the British mini-series into this film as well as the long development the film went through but alas all we get is this fluff piece.

two deleted scenes play in a reel that runs for 3 minutes 39 seconds, the first is an extended scene of Anne Collins' press conference, the second scene in the reel is of Della questioning Ronda Silver about the Congressman's assistant and also about Dominic Foy and

There are a small collection of Blu-ray exclusive extras the first are some "U-Control" features which can be accessed with profile 1.1 players or greater, the first feature is a picture-in-picture video commentary that plays while you watch the film, occasional clip with pop up providing more in-depth information on the production. This is best feature on this disc as we get a thorough examination of the production process. The feature covers everything I mentioned that the featurette should have covered, as well as delves into the casting, shooting and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, this is worth a look if you're interested in learning more about this film and it's production history.

Next up is the "Washington, D.C. Locations" interactive mode, this feature uses Google Earth to track the real locations that are featured in the film, this feature is accessible as you view the film.

You can also use the "MyScenes" feature to bookmark your favorite scenes to jump straight to them.

Finally we get some BD-Live access for profile 2.0 players only, using the Ethernet connection you can go online to Universal's online portal to access more trailers and use the "MyScenes" sharing feature which allows you to share your bookmark scenes with others online.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: A

 


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