State of Play (2009)

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Paul Abbott’s 2003 BBC series was a little bit legendary and it gets a nice big screen interpretation here as a cracking conspiracy thriller set in the world of Washington DC and newspapers, you know, those old-fashioned bits of paper that report facts and not ‘alternative facts’. Adapted by Tony Gilroy, Matthew Michael Carnahan and Billy Ray, Russell Crowe is the old school Saab-driving longhair who likes Irish rebel songs and whiskey when his old college roomie Congressman Ben Affleck (when his forehead still moved) gets mired in scandal as an assistant dies in front of a subway train. She’s widely rumoured to have been his romantic interest. When he approaches Crowe for help as the body count mounts, his committee looking into the doings of a security organisation with government contracts hoves into view. Meanwhile, Crowe takes on his blogging counterpart at the newspaper, Rachel McAdams, as his co-investigator, while editor Helen Mirren is under pressure from the new owners. This is a taut, pacy, tense workout with everyone at the top of their game and the issues of Homeland Security, reporting and the threat to newspapers from the worldwide web interlaced into nice character studies, as Affleck’s estranged wife, Robin Wright Penn, who has had an adulterous relationship with Crowe, complicates and diverts his attention from the bigger picture. An astonishingly timely piece of work. Terrific direction by Kevin Macdonald.

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Unknown (2011)

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This one completely passed me by when it was first released in the cinema for reasons which presently escape me. Then it was out of the local video store (late, lamented) whenever I went to rent it. A friend insisted I would love it so I did the unthinkable. Reader, I bought my own copy. There is nothing wrong with this film. It does everything you think it could or should do. Cannily adapted from the source novel by French screen/writer Didier Van Cauwelaert (who has my undying admiration/envy for writing a musical with MICHEL LEGRAND!!!!) by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, it deals with that thorny problem of identity. Or, as Arnold Schwarzenegger once had it, If I’m Not Me, Den Who De Hell Am I?! Quite. And here it’s a spy thriller with Liam Neeson as the man who takes a dunk in the Spree on arrival in Berlin and winds up looking for help from Diane Kruger while wife January Jones inexplicably shuns him when he goes back to the Hotel Adlon. She’s now married to Aidan Quinn. And Sebastian Koch and Bruno Ganz might help him find out just what the hell is going on. Then Frank Langella pays a visit … Brilliant use of the city as location, fabulous cinematography (a palette of greys with pops of red) by the estimable Flavio Labiano (who does a similarly great job on The Gunman, a film with a totally different aesthetic) and an incredibly well-chosen cast make this worthy of Hitchcock. The first of three terrific collaborations between Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra but this is my favourite.