Chris Orr has State of Play just right. If you watch the six-hour BBC miniseries — and you should — nothing about it screams out “they ought to try to cut this down to two hours, change the setting to the United States, and do it on the big screen.” There’s no cool action that benefits from putting it on the big screen, the culture of “fleet street” is nothing like the stodgy world of American newspapering, and the basic doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.
The virtue of the miniseries is that using its implausible plot as a McGuffin, you get a lot of interesting characters and really good performances and little nooks and crannies. Cutting it down to two hours involves removing a lot of that and doing more to highlight the central, and basically nonsensical, plot thread instead. For all that the project is ill-advised, the movie does an almost shockingly good job of execution. I was half-expecting a total disaster, and what they deliver is a totally competent thriller. The fact that Ben Affleck can’t act doesn’t even ruin things. I’m pretty firmly convinced that this is the best one could have done with the source material.
But it was a bad idea to even try. You should just get the miniseries on DVD. It’s not even worth regretting that this wasn’t remade by HBO as a miniseries. British politics is different from American politics and British journalism is different from American journalism; a good story about British politics and journalism isn’t as good when you turn it into a story about American politics and journalism.