Plame's status as a CIA agent was revealed by White House officials allegedly out to discredit her husband after he wrote a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece saying that the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. Written by
Fact and fiction balanced with terrific performances
From the opening scene in Malaysia to the mines of Niger and then to the streets of Baghdad, "Fair Game" begins as an espionage thriller, a "Bourne" film without the obligatory car chases, shootouts and fights, but rather, with a woman who uses her brains and intellect.
Once the film shifts its focus back in the United States of America, the film takes a slight turn to the dramatic route and thus may seem melodramatic with this married people's lives being tinkered with and with no one but each other to help them. Having said that, "Fair Game" (no, not that dreadful Cindy Crawford/William Baldwin cheeseball) is a remarkably well-crafted political thriller that is driven home with outstanding, terrific performances by both Naomi Watts and especially Sean Penn.
Whether you believe the many questions posed in the film are truth or merely lies (whether the agency really did take that drastic measure to cover up what the government did not want to hear to prevent the war... or is this all propaganda from the start?), I really can't say, because this happened in another country far away from my home, so I have no right to say whose side I'm on.
Watts plays CIA agent Valerie Plame whose cover gets blown and who gets blamed for the leak of wrong information to the White House, who uses said information to invade Iraq. Is this all true? Suppose it is, given that the news footage of both at-the-time President Bush and Vice President Cheney look strikingly foreshadowing when compared to the events in the movie - this is meant to provoke outrage at the government's so-called "ignorance and stupidity" so they say, so what? I'm not saying anything to make myself sound like I'm on the wrong line, nor am I saying anything to disprove the film's "facts" either. I'm just stating that this is a great drama, no matter what you believe.
See, the thing with drama is that fact can and will be fictionalized so that it may be accepted easily by the ever-interested audience. "Fair Game" may be slow-paced and devoid of action sequences ala Doug Liman's previous blockbuster efforts, but here not a moment lost my interest, even the dramatic ones between Watts and Penn, as they ignite the screen with fiery performances, as this political scandal isn't only affecting their jobs and their reputations, it's also affecting their love life. And it's crumbling as things go from bad to worse in this film.
Watts is superb in this film. In the beginning she acts very convincingly as a strong, determined, iron-willed woman, mother, and wife who is very confident about herself and not willing to push into any demand that comes at her way. Later after the scandal is spread she slowly but surely devolves into a woman that is filling with desperation and fear, until she nearly loses control of her downward spiral. Ditto with Sean Penn here. He is absolutely mesmerizing, as always, as Plame's husband Ambassador Joe Wilson. Soft spoken and charming when he needs to, but when he's angry he makes everyone feel the rage without becoming too overdone. Wilson as portrayed by Penn is a character who's not about to let this scandal get in the way of his family, so he decides to clear his and his wife's name by using the media and criticizing the government. Of course, his wife isn't happy about this and it causes more tension between them. Penn and Watts show terrific chemistry together that hasn't been lost since "21 Grams" and both of them vividly portray not politicians trying to get the truth, but rather more of a family trying to pull themselves together. So it's not entirely an espionage thriller like this film was sadly marketed as. The supporting actors are also great in their own right.
This film does pose a lot of questions that make one think during the movie about the purpose and cause of the Iraq war, the invasion and more importantly, the power and impact the US government has on their own people and the various ways they can abuse it on them to get whatever they want. And this is proved with the decaying lives of Plame and Wilson from American citizens to branded traitors. You can't imagine how they really felt, but Penn and Watts come really, REALLY close to it.
The film has it's flaws, though. The pacing could be a little bit tighter and the dialog in Iraq doesn't sound genuinely Iraqi. However, Doug Liman's direction is enough to keep the tension gripping and the film focused on the characters and not just glimpses of the war and scandal themselves. John Powell's music score is refreshingly low-key and it suits the dramatic mood of the film even better. Liman's cinematography (pulling a double duty here) is nicely framed without excessive style to it, making it simple, easy to watch, and gripping. Editing is fluid and the screenplay is written very well with equal amounts of intelligence and emotions.
In short, this is a superbly fine drama of the lives of the people in the limelight of this political scandal, with terrific performances and strong direction worthy of a theater ticket. Go see this movie and savor the performances and the question of the US government on its own people.
I find it strangely coincidental that the filmmakers from the "Jason Bourne" series both released movies this year that criticize the Bush administration. Doug Liman made this film, while Paul Greengrass made the slightly superior "Green Zone" and even managed to bring star Matt Damon with him. Composer John Powell scored both films. You can think of this movie as a companion piece to "Green Zone", hell, you can imagine the events in both movies happening at the same time. Now THAT would be a wicked idea.
Overall rating: 80/100
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