Fair Game
But what if we don’t get Oscar nominations?

Theatrical Release Date: 11/05/2010
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Ty Burrell, Sam Shepard, Bruce McGill, David Andrews


It’s sort of a fixer-upper.

Another politically charged and high-profile news item, another movie. “Fair Game” is the cinematic adaptation of the Valerie Plame story (sadly, it’s not the remake of the Cindy Crawford/William Baldwin ’95 flick of the same name). As the trailers let you know, Plame’s a CIA agent and someone leaks her real name to the press; something not only ethically dubious but there’s a federal law against releasing the name of a covert operative (Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982).

Usually, this type of fare is done via documentary and Plame’s story would make for a good one, depending on the amount of information that hasn’t been tucked away and deemed classified. But like “The Social Network“, director Doug Liman and company seem to be more concerned with providing audiences with “good drama” than fully sticking to the nuts and bolts of everything. (I did a little research and it was apparently at the discretion of the journalist who broke the story to actually call out Plame; though he contends he did not know she was still involved in covert operations, the CIA attest they gave him sufficient warnings to refrain from using her real name.)

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the script is based on two books: “Fair Game” by Valerie Plame and “The Politics of Truth” by Joseph Wilson (Plame’s husband) – who just happen to be the two main characters. Obviously, the pair is presented in the best possible light, and while most of the key elements are verifiable fact, some of the bedroom discussions and moustache twirling inspired conversations could just as easily be played up for dramatization and there’s no way for us to know.

Truthiness aside (with respect to Stephen Colbert), the bigger problems in terms of satisfying an audience is that what unfolds on-screen is a bit of a bore. Sure, you’ve got Naomi “Academy Award Nominee” Watts and Sean “Academy Award Winner” Penn reuniting on-screen (their previous romantic entanglement coming in 2003′s “21 Grams”) but that’s all it is. They put a lot of spirit and conviction in their characters but it’s hard to watch the performances without saying to one’s self: “Boy, they really want more award nominations, don’t they?” This is especially evident for Watts as she breaks down while brushing her teeth in front of a mirror (toothpaste foaming at the mouth is the new lip quiver) and for Penn when he decides to win an argument via an 8 year-old’s mantra of “whoever’s loudest is correct”.

Not to say that all of their screen time is blatant posing but enough of the key moments have that air to them that it detracts from the more disturbing central issue: the lengths to which the Bush administration went to cover up their WMD hunting faux pas in Iraq. Where the film works is in trying to convey this message, including numerous bits of news footage of Bush and his staff telling the press their certainty of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear military programs; while Plame and Wilson try to use whatever means are available to them to set the record straight. Had the script been less concerned with giving the key actors buzzworthy lines that are great for awards show clips, the film might not have fallen so short.

Helping to cement my disapproval is Liman’s attempt to be Paul Greengrass. He decided that in order to really drive home the point that this is based on real events, he’d utilize the most annoying handheld camera work and, unfortunately, this is no “Bloody Sunday” or “United 93“; this isn’t even a decent homage to Greengrass’ work with the last two Bourne films. I’m actually quite used to handheld cameras at this point, with so many directors exploring this style to increase the audience’s feeling that they are right there with the characters. However, the way in which Liman captured everything is clumsy, to be kind, and made me a bit queasy at times and I can only best describe it as akin to the first 20 minutes of “Cloverfield“; only there’s no monster that the cameraman is running from.

Now, those still planning to see the film should probably avoid researching the facts if you don’t know or remember them, as obviously it will spoil the chain of events. Overall, the story itself is interesting but Liman’s choices and the overly showy performances keep “Fair Game” from being something I’d feel comfortable recommending which is why it earns a 2.5 out of 5. Even die hard fans of the actors would be far better off waiting for this to eventually hit the cable channels, as the sum of the parts simply doesn’t equate to the price of a movie ticket or even a DVD rental.

2.5 out of 5