Movie Review: Fair Game (2010)

| 26 November , 2010 | Reply

Keeva Stratton, Quip Creative

Director: Doug Limon
Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shepard, David Andrews, Brooke Smith, Noah Emmerich, Bruce McGill, Michael Kelly, Liraz Charchi, Khaled Nabawy

First, some good news – this film is not a remake of the 1995 movie starring Cindy Crawford and William Baldwin. The film we are talking about here, Fair Game, headlined by two fine actors in Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, is most simply described as a political thriller – but this plain description is somewhat misleading, and undersells the qualities that make this film so interesting.

Drawing on the memoirs The Politics of Truth by Joseph Wilson and Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson, the film is a dramatized account of a gripping, actual series of events that happened recently enough (post-9/11) to resonate powerfully. Simply put, the movie is based on the real life story of the Bush administration\’s efforts to quash accusations that it lied about Saddam\’s weapons program in Iraq.

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts, with another strong performance) is a covert officer in the CIA’s counter-proliferation department. Her husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), is a retired U.S. Ambassador to Niger. To Valerie\’s friends and neighbours, she has a boring, banal job as an energy consultant; only Joe and her parents (Sam Shepard plays her father) know that Valerie\’s true career. Valerie has spent over a decade-and-a-half living a double life, much of it shadowed by secrecy and deception.

Her life takes a new course based on a series of events. America is preparing to go to war with Iraq. Based on his years of foreign service, Joe is asked by the State Department to travel to Niger to investigate intelligence claims of a possible sale of enriched uranium to Iraq, as part of their nuclear weapons program. After some digging around, Joe comes to the conclusion that this sale did not take place. After receiving at least two other reports that also confirmed the absence of any evidence of a uranium purchase, CIA officials report to Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, ‘Scooter\’ Libby (David Andrews), that the claims are shaky at best.

However, in his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush rationalises a war against Iraq by mentioning their accumulation of materials to build weapons of mass destruction – based on this faulty report of the purchase of enriched uranium tubes.

Joe, portrayed by Sean Penn as a brash, opinionated, and obstinately principled man (Penn does his usual outstanding job in conveying depth and nuance), is furious at this twisting of the truth, and writes an op-ed piece, ‘What I Didn\’t Find in Africa\’, published in the New York Times on 6 July 2003. The piece, predictably, ignites a firestorm of controversy.

Soon after, Valerie’s covert status is leaked to high-profile Washington journalists. It becomes clear that this is a coordinated campaign to retaliate against her husband for his very public criticism of the government. Her career and cover are destroyed, her operations and contacts are jeopardised and left exposed, and her private life begins to fall apart – Valerie\’s friends feel betrayed and begin to distance themselves, she receives anonymous death threats, Joe\’s consulting business dries up, and their marriage buckles under the stresses and pressure from all corners.

All this would seem to serve up a healthy dose of spoilers about what happens in the film – but then the nature and outcome of Valerie Plame’s ordeal has been well publicised, politicised and scrutinised. The appeal of the film is not in the maintenance of suspense – we know the story – but in the finely drawn dramatic performances of the actors, and in the emotional heft of the narrative, portraying a marriage under fire, all underscored by the real life political intrigue that at times seems almost too unbelievable to be true. Fair Game is easy to recommend from a number of angles; it\’s thought-provoking, dramatic, and (not typical of your average political thriller) it\’s a powerful, character-driven, story.

The film is showing now.


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