I finally finished watching the taut, thrilling BBC mini-series State of Play and can’t recommend it enough. One reviewer said it’s “an excellent, intelligent, grown-up drama about a murky, and very real, world.” Political scandal with requisite mistress! Boozy journalists! Government corruption! Corporate shenanigans! What’s not to love? Well, with the series, nothing. But the upcoming American big-screen adaptation gives me all sorts of reasons to worry that what was a gripping television drama in the hands of the Brits will be turned into a preposterous political thriller with all the excitement of the National Treasure franchise. Following are some reasons why. (And yes! These are snap judgments based on shaky evidence and wild speculation, exactly what the internet was built for!)
- Condensing a six-hour dramatic series into the confines of a two-hour film means that the complexities of the characters will be lost. While the original was a twisty, turny, plot-driven show, it allowed enough moments for the characters to breathe, something that’s unlikely to happen in a fast-paced Hollywood thriller.
- In the original, an employee who’s also the mistress of a prominent MP and head of the Energy Committee is killed, by accident it is thought. When news of the affair hits the press it is an outrage! By transposing the action to our nation’s capital, the idea of a pol having a simple extramarital affair is rather tame. It’s so 2001! Paging Gary Condit! Yes when the President diddles someone, the coverage is ceaseless. But some Congressman? Um, given the kinky, pedophilic, closeted homosexual cretins that have roamed the halls of Congress of late, simple man-on-woman after-hours nookie is hardly worth batting an eye. Tie an underage male intern in the basement of your Georgetown home and inject him with female hormones while expensing trips to Thai whorehouses and maybe you’ve got a scandal.
- Checkbook journalism! The Brit reporters chasing the story pay sources cash hand over fist. That sort of transaction in pursuit of a good story is frowned upon by our Fourth Estate. So I guess it’s down to good ol’ American intimidation to shake the truth out, maybe?
- Smoking and booze! Lord, did the journo characters in the Brit series like their vices. And not to say our own reporters don’t, but Hollywood films usually don’t like to depict these vices in any substantial or credible way.
- Casting. Russell Crowe plays the lead role of Cal McCaffrey, reporter and former campaign manager for the disgraced pol. Ugh! Bad! Yes Crowe is talented, but he also brings with him his outsize, A-list baggage. Attention will be paid to his Performance. He may be fine, but he’s such an imposing presence onscreen, even when he plays men who are small or weak, that he’s going to dominate far too much, in contrast to the British actor John Simm, who was charming, conflicted, and a little squirrely — In other words, believable. The fact that Brad Pitt was reportedly attached to the role for ages is of no consolation. He too is wrong. This isn’t a remake of All the President’s Men. Jason Bateman as a bi-sexual, foppish key witness. I love Bateman, but he’s a bit dry for the outlandish role. Rachel McAdams plays the role of Della Frye, originally just another reporter, in this iteration she’s a “star blogger” who is “constantly at odds” with Crowe’s old-school reporter character. Gawd, what does that mean? That she wants to blog about her feeeeelings about the murder while everyone else is out trying to break the story? Will she overshare? Oh, and! The original had James McAvoy. ‘Nuff said.
- Now for things that might work: casting Helen Mirren as the editor of the fictional Washington Globe newspaper. Yet! The role in the Brit series was played by Bill Nighy. So except for a gender switch, trading one heavyweight British actor for another is a bit of a draw.
Since State of Play: the Movie won’t be released until sometime in 2009, this nit-picking and taking of pot-shots is very premature. But somehow I have a feeling that my worst fears will be justified. Prove me wrong!
After the jump, a clip from the original series.
[most research via the venerable Wikipedia]