State Of Play

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - SEVEN DAYS -

Fri­day, 10.35pm, UTV

Its cre­den­tials may look good on pa­per (par­tic­u­larly the A-list cast), but it’s that lead weight of ex­pec­ta­tion that could see a wal­let-pop­ping Hol­ly­wood pro­ject such as this one fall apart.

View­ers who im­mersed them­selves in Paul Ab­bott’s orig­i­nal – the six-part BBC se­ries shown in 2003 – may ac­tively want to be dis­ap­pointed by Kevin (The Last King Of Scot­land) Mac­don­ald’s very Amer­i­can adap­ta­tion. But a film and a tele­vi­sion se­ries are, of course, en­tirely dif­fer­ent beasts, and this breath­less yet in­tel­li­gent ac­tioner – which boasts the likes of Tony Gil­roy (of the Bourne se­ries) and Peter (Frost/Nixon) Mor­gan among its screen­writ­ers – doesn’t fail to de­liver. De­spite the con­densed run­ning time, it is an as­sured re­work­ing, mix­ing the bones of Ab­bott’s plot with the feel of all those great con­spir­acy thrillers of the 1970s.

Rus­sell Crowe (in the role played by John Simm on TV) tops the bill as Cal McAf­frey, a scruffy hack of the old or­der, whose ties to a dis­graced con­gress­man see him drawn into a scan­dal that is grow­ing more sala­cious by the minute. Ben Af­fleck (left) is Stephen Collins, the politi­cian in ques­tion, who finds him­self up to his neck in po­lit­i­cal slime af­ter a se­ries of mur­ders, in­clud­ing that of the re­searcher with whom he was hav­ing an af­fair – and who may not have been who she claimed.

The story be­hind the film

The film was orig­i­nally set to re­unite Fight Club stars Brad Pitt and Ed­ward Nor­ton, but the writ­ers’ strike – which started in 2007 and caused in­dus­try­wide chaos in the US – put paid to that. Put sim­ply, Pitt wanted rewrites, no one would do them and he dropped out. The de­lays meant that Nor­ton, too, had to exit the pro­ject. Even­tu­ally, Crowe and Af­fleck were cast, but not be­fore John Simm had been courted by the stu­dio... or so he thought. Af­ter be­ing in­vited State­side, he learned he would have to au­di­tion for the part ‘with 400 other peo­ple’ – nat­u­rally, he re­turned home, later stat­ing, ‘They re­make ev­ery­thing I do, so they know who I am. I’m not beg­ging.’ Vicky Thomp­son

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