Directed by Doug Liman
Driven by a strong script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, the first half of the film takes on a global feel, setting things up with a fairly detailed accounting of the investigation into the WMDs by Valerie Plame, sending her husband to Niger to look into allegations they were providing supplies to Iraq that could be used for nuclear weapons, while trying to find Iraqi scientists who will provide information in exchange for protection from Sadam Hussein.
The material works well with Doug Liman’s affinity for handheld cameras, giving the film a suitable documentary feel, although he uses more panoramic shots to establish some of the many locations visited during the story. As it turns out, the government doesn’t like being called into question and when the left-leaning Wilson reveals what he found in Niger, his wife’s identity as a CIA operative is leaked to the Washington Post. The film’s title itself is based on a statement made by Karl Rove about Joe Wilson’s wife being fair game in the political struggle taking place in the country between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Things get infinitely more interesting as the second half deals with Valerie’s outing and how she and Joe handle the backlash. She’s effectively shunned by their friends and suspended from her job, so she’s unable to protect her assets promised. Always the politician, Wilson heads out on a speaking tour to badmouth the government for what they did, while Plame prefers to deal with her predicament quietly and privately in order to protect her family and her job. The tension created by how the couple decide to deal with the situation ultimately leads to them separating.
Doug Liman couldn’t have asked for a better pair of actors than Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, reunited for the first time since the excellent “21 Grams,” because they do a credible job with every aspect of Valerie and Joe’s relationship and how it breaks down. Watts’ performance is infinitely more compelling than Penn’s, possibly because you really believe her as Plame; the movie never misses a beat when it shows the real Plame at the end. The movie certainly leaves you with some questions about the veracity of what went on behind the scenes of the CIA’s WMD investigation, since so much of it had been redacted from public record, but when it comes to the more personal aspects of the story, it works implicitly.
Unfortunately, the film’s pace also slows down quite dramatically as it focuses on Valerie and Joe rather than building upon the tension rising throughout the first half. Granted, that’s the nature of the story and the film Liman wanted to make, but those hoping for something more explosive in terms of the political plot may be disappointed that the only explosions are of the emotional kind. By comparison, Rod Lurie’s “Nothing But the Truth” was a fictionalized version of Plame’s story focusing on the reporter who broke the story and Vera Farmiga essentially portraying a Plame-like character. That film was even more focused on the characters, but the way events played out in that film proves that sometimes fictionalizing a true story can be infinitely more interesting than maintaining the truth. In that sense, “Fair Game” could have been structured far more effectively in order to maintain the energy of the first half when it turns into a straight drama in the second.
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