Review: 'Fair Game'

(Two-and-a-half stars)

Political junkies already know the tale of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson. Those who don't know about the sordid affair are the target audience for Doug Liman's film "Fair Game," based on Plame's memoir "Fair Game" and Wilson's "The Politics of Truth."

The film proves most effective at dramatizing the path to war, lined with coercion, bad intel and pretexts for a foregone conclusion. Beltway power couple Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) find themselves under attack after diplomat and consultant Joe pooh-poohs what George W. Bush called "the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud": Saddam Hussein's purported purchase of yellowcake uranium from Niger. Wilson's investigation finds no threat, but the war machine doesn't stop, leading Wilson to poison-pen the New York Times op-ed "What I Didn't Find in Africa."

Somewhere in the shadows, senior Bush adviser Karl Rove decides "Wilson's wife is fair game," precipitating the outing of Plame as a CIA covert operations officer. With her operations burnt (and her contacts in danger), Plame's career implodes. And thus begins "the war at home" on two fronts: in the media and in the house of Plame and Wilson. The slander, with impunity, by credulous media outlets sends Wilson into a full-court press of interviews and magazine profiles. Plame, whose secret life hasn't prepared her to deal with the spotlight, suffers under the unexpected attention as she strives to clean up the messes of her suddenly inactive operations.

Serving as his own director of photography, Liman ("The Bourne Identity") shoots it all in his signature self-conscious shaky-cam, but the film never gets past the perception of stars playing public figures, though David Andrews does a nice turn as the Veep's hunting dog "Scooter" Libby. The film's midpoint turn from intrigue to domestic squabbling serves the impression that "Fair Game" is a rather perfunctory TV movie writ large. Certainly solid, Watts and Penn both have their moments (Watts nails a speech about her newfound breaking point; Penn shows admirable restraint), but they're asked to sell some fairly corny lines in the script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth.

Liman tells the story with simmering righteous indignation that comes to a boil in some didactic salvos. He shows Bush saying: "We seek peace; we strive for peace. And sometimes peace must be defended," then cuts to the middle-class family of an innocent Iraqi scientist under siege during a U.S. bombing. The film climaxes with Penn's Wilson delivering a lecture to wide-eyed students. "Fair Game" will connect most to just such an audience, seeking a dramatized education in "Plamegate." Those who read the daily news, on the other hand, may find it all respectable but rather soggy.

Rated PG-13 for some language. 1 hour, 48 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

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Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Hey Condi - have you found the WMDs yet?

Like this comment
Posted by Gordon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 12, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Joe Wilson gave away his own wife's name in a resume that he published, hoping to attract some interest for a job, which he quickly removed, once his game was up. He and his wife, Valerie, are social climbers of the typical sort, in DC. They are now trying to make money via law suits and movie deals.

The type of people who will watch this movie are the same ones that watched other hoots, likes those from Al Gore and Michael Moore and Oliver Stone. Same old crowd.

Like this comment
Posted by Bruce
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm

What's wrong with Gore, Moore and Stone? "An Inconvenient Truth" (Gore) won Best Documentary at the Oscars in 2006; Michael Moore's riveting "Bowling for Columbine" won Best Documentary in 2003; and Stone's "Platoon" won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1986 and is still widely considered to be one of the best war films ever made.

Sounds to me like you just don't like filmmakers with any kind of progressive mindset. Sorry to burst your bubble, but most actors and filmmakers tend to lean at least a little to the left. There aren't a ton of artistic conservatives in the world.

Like this comment
Posted by Gordon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2010 at 8:05 am

"What's wrong with Gore, Moore and Stone?"

They are all propagandists.

Like this comment
Posted by Older and Wiser
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 13, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Gordon: you are correct. It matters not one whit to those who wish to believe the fairy-tale that the fairy tale is made up.

It doesn't matter that Ms. Plame did not work "covert", nor had left the country for years, thus no longer considered "covert" by the rules of what qualifies one as covert.

It doesn't matter that her "cover' was non-existent at parties, that it was well known that she used to be "covert" and wasn't any longer.

It is irrelevant that she broke all civilized rules for conflict of interest, and nominated her own husband for the "yellow cake" job, and it doesn't matter that her own husband outed himself in a NY Times editorial, breaking all rules concerning secrecy around his own mission. It doesn't matter that one google search would find who his wife is, and it doesn't matter that it was a journalist who "leaked" her well-known name, not "those big, evil Republicans in the White House". It doesn't matter that all "intelligence" is evaluated by higher ups, that no one person in the lower rungs is presumed to have all the answers, inluding Joe Wilson.

I will not see the movie, the original propoganda made me ill enough.Just another in a long line of propoganda, made to seduce the gullible.

The older I get, the more disgusted I get by how little actual facts seem to matter to anyone any more. Maybe it was always like this, and I have just wised up.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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