Fair Game

Watching Sean Penn get all worked up over the Bush administration is something I think everyone has seen a bit too often. One year, I caught a glimpse of him inciting a riotous protest at the Sundance Film Festival over Abu Ghraib, or some other offense, and believe me, it wasn’t a pretty site. So the prospect of watching a movie Penn stars in, that does basically the same thing for over one hundred minutes is something I could not get excited about. Imagine my surprise, however, when the film, titled Fair Game, ended up being really, really great.

The story surrounds the events between the years 2003 to 2005, when the identity of covert CIA officer named Valerie Plame Wilson was blown in the Washington Post. The leak came from Richard Armitage, a Deputy Secretary of State. Valerie was and is married to a former ambassador, by the name Joseph Wilson. Naomi Watts plays the role of Valerie, and Sean Penn, her husband.

I’ll save the details of the plot, as it will be familiar to those that remember the real events. And those that don’t know, should really let it all unfold in the theatre. Embarassingly, the whole thing was news to me, as I was living in Eastern Europe during those years. I had no idea about any of this.

The film doesn’t make qualms about placing blame, and condemning basically anyone involved with the decision to invade Iraq. I was certain that I would feel like I was being preached to. That I would be told, again, that there were some really bad decisions made while W was in charge. While it was clear that the film had a purpose, it felt like an exposé, and not liberal media. What the film did accomplish, was enraging me against a completely reckless administration. Reminding me how terrifying it is that people take what they hear on TV as truth (which is especially scary at a time when Fox News’ ratings are so high).  It got me pretty worked up.  And then, I felt stupid for letting a movie play to my emotions so strongly. But it was fun while it lasted.

The script comes John-Henry Butterworth (this is his first writing credit) and Jez Butterworth (Birthday Girl). They took information from the real Valerie Wilson’s book, titled Fair Game, and from her husband’s book titled The Politics of Truth. Surprisingly, this comes from director Doug Liman, who recently directed Jumper, and before that Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Based on his earlier work, I wouldn’t have guess he had such a tightly-paced, and entertaining political thriller in him. But he did.  And even though the subject matter is bound to polarize, Liman did an excellent job of keeping the film somewhat even.  You could see the joy in Sean Penn’s face as he spouts monologues and tirades against Bush, and his cabinet. But he did the part proud. Ms. Watt’s was called upon for a much less flamboyant performance. And while it may seem muted next to Penn, the composure and emotion she brought to the role was actually quite moving.  This is a film that deserves to be seen.


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3 Responses to “Fair Game”
  1. Great review. I went into this one thinking I’d probably end up liking it despite Penn (I generally like him as an actor but this character just seemed too… Sean Penn-y) but his performance ended up being one of the things I really liked about the film. Watts was awesome and I sincerely hope she manages to get a Best Actress nod, though I suspect that the role/performance might be too low key.
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  2. Something about this smells of The Interpreter (2005), the poster with a blonde N. Kidman and Sean Penn. Judging from your review, Fair Game is probably the better film ( :
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