Review: Fair Game

Yet another political film to remind everyone how horrible President Bush was at his job, Fair Game, based on two books (The Politics of Truth by Joe Wilson, and Fair Game by his wife Valerie Plame Wilson), concerns itself with the retelling of the scandal they found themselves neck-deep in 7 years ago. Here, the betrayed spy is played by Naomi Watts and her conflicted husband is played by well-known Bush hater, Sean Penn. It is based solely on their two performances that this sober drama remains watchable despite its shortcomings.

Plame-gate was another big story that I remained willfully ignorant about and the film is laid out plainly enough for the uninitiated to follow. After 9/11 and before Operation Iraqi Freedom, Plame, a CIA operative who specialized in WMDs, had her identity leaked to the press by white house officials, mainly Scooter Libby. This treasonous act was committed as a kind of payback/headline changer because Plame’s husband wrote a story about how Bush lied to the world about WMDs.

The film is obviously biased, but that isn’t much of a distraction since there seems to be little doubt as to the wronged party. The most interesting bits happen at the beginning, before the big leak. The film gets into some nifty details about WMDs, the pipes used, the amount of Uranium needed, the type of science it would require, and why Iraq had none of these things. This first half is brisk and plays like a spy movie, albeit not a very flashy spy movie.

Later, the film slows way down and becomes a marital drama. Valerie is torn between her loyalties to her country and her family, while Joe is torn between the truth and justice, which tears them from each other. Unfortunately, these scenes are rather dull and contain some clichéd dialogue. They’re also predictable, since the right thing to do is so glaringly obvious; it’s just a matter of waiting for the characters to do it.

The subplot involving an Iraqi family caught in the middle goes nowhere. The camera work is extremely annoying (shot by director, Doug Liman, himself). It’s not shaky-cam, and it’s not full of unmotivated zooms… and it’s not even faux-documentary, it’s just unable to hold still. Plus, if you’re familiar with the story, I doubt there’s anything new here to uncover.

(A further quibble that I have to mention is the shitty title. I know it’s based on the book, which is based on a Karl Rove quote about Plame being “fair game,” like a hunting target. But it sounds like some third-rate thriller you’d see  on late-night Cinemax with gratuitous T&A and D-list actors like William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford… oh wait.)

There is half of an entertaining movie here and two fantastic performances. Watts is perfectly icy, yet full of a quiet dignity. She’s tough but maternal, and Naomi manages to make that believable without Lifetime movie melodrama. She actually sells the most laughable line of dialogue in the whole movie. Penn is, again, great here. He’s still full of that famous rage but able to pull it back and be the weaker link in the marriage. And it does feel like a marriage, which is to be expected from two pros that have worked together before (21 Grams, The Assassination of Richard Nixon).

Other than recreating recent history and exploring extraordinary marital woes, Fair Game doesn’t have anything new or interesting to say. There’s no real point, except to remind everyone that telling the truth is good, and Bush was very bad (which is painfully explained in a preachy speech at the end). That, and maybe to provide a stage for Sean Penn and Naomi Watts to prove that they are two wonderful actors.

Grade: B-

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