Fair Game

17 Nov

Title: Fair Game
Doug Liman
Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, based on a book by Joseph Wilson and another book by Valerie Plame
Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Ty Burrell, Sam Shepard, Bruce McGill
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, some language
108 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

Fair Game tells the story of the CIA leak scandal, also known as the Plame affair, in which Valerie Plame was identified as a covert CIA officer. The story focusses on both Ms. Plame, played by Naomi Watts, and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson, played by Sean Penn, who has many times stated on the record that he thinks his wife being revealed as a covert was some sort of retribution by the Bush administration for a very critical piece he wrote for the New York Times in 2003, in which he said that he had found nothing in Niger that suggested Iraq had acquired nuclear material. The film, I thought, was very good, there were some moments in which it felt too much like a fact-for-fact telling of the story and not so much as the effective political thriller it was for the most part, but still, that didn’t happen all that much and the performances by Ms. Watts and Mr. Penn are phenomenal and that’s what made this film so great.

Doug Liman is a very good director. The guy started out with the fantastic Swingers, then the very good Go, and three years later he kicked off the Bourne franchise with The Bourne Identity, which obviously was fantastic. His latest two efforts haven’t been as amazing, Mr. & Mrs. Smith was quite fun but not as great as the previous ones, and his last film was Jumper, and we all would have been better off if we hadn’t seen that one.

Fair Game breaks that bad streak for him though, and gets him back at showing his abilities to the fullest in a film that he handles very well, effectively handling the mixing of news footage and the skills of his actors. And his actors, as I’ve said and will continue to say, are amazingly good here, they make their characters relatable, and that gets Fair Game to be something more than just a political thriller, as we get to see the human side of the story, too. Just imagine the marriage, this is a film that not only works as a very taut political film, but also as a very humane examination of a marriage under the most intense sort of marital pressure imaginable, seriously, take the politics away and this is just a look at a struggling modern marriage. Just think about it this way, a woman’s undercover status was supposedly blown by a government in retribution for an article her husband wrote. This is just very compelling stuff, and this is an entertaining and smart film through and through.

The Plame affair is a fantastic look of what American politics looked like back in the Bush administration, and Fair Game illustrates that awesomely. The screenplay is adapted from two separate memoirs, one by Ms. Plame and the other by Mr. Wilson, and it plays awesomely at portraying the relationship side of it all, juggling the demands of their busy work lives and their domestic life. The thing is that with such busy lives any sort of push may mean it could all come down, and in this relationship the push they got was the biggest it could have been. We know this story by heart, we know how it’s gonna end, we know about what Ms. Plame found out about Iraq, we know about Scoot Libby, we know it all, but this is still seriously gripping because of the way its told.

The film never hides its support for its characters. We see Ms. Plame’s cover blown, we see Mr. Wilson enraged and doing everything he can to expose the real criminals and defend the reputation of his family which was set under huge scrutiny. There are some facts that are indeed embellished, some that aren’t mentioned at all, but for the most part this is a pretty accurate portrayal of what happened, and, what’s best is that Mr. Liman gives this story a very good pace to keep it all very fun, and found in Mr. Penn and Ms. Watts the most perfect cast he could have wanted for this story.

The story obviously tells some hard facts, and it never shied away from pointing fingers and calling names, I appreciated that boldness, it added something great to it. Especially when you consider that the film isn’t an angry rant towards the former presidential administration, but instead it’s all very matter-of-factly. It basically goes ahead and says that if the administration hadn’t punished them for the information they got, then maybe the Iraq war wouldn’t have happened. I personally do agree to a degree with what this film tells us, and I guess that’s why I liked this film so damn much, and I guess that if you don’t agree with it you won’t find it as good.

But, hard as it may be, try and not focus on the real-life politics that are on full display. And try to focus on the film aspect of it all, this is an incredibly well-made political thriller, with two seriously outstanding performances, and that also shows a very accurate portrait of a modern marriage under the hugest of strains. Yes, things ended up well between Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson, they survived this all, but you’ll still leave the film angry about why the struggle came to be in the first place, and why things haven’t been corrected to this very day. That’s why this film is so good, because it stimulates and it entertains, politics aside, and that’s just what any great film of any type should aim to do.

Grade: B+


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