Fair Game

2011-02-04 12:51
Fair Game
What it's about:

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), a well-respected CIA agent quickly finds her career and reputations under attack after a member of the White House reveals her true identity in retaliation for an article written by her journalist husband (played by Sean Penn). The contents of the letter: a scathing article about the Bush administration's abuse of the trust of the American people by leading them into a war based on the threat of non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction.

What we thought:

Not to be confused with the 1995 Billy Baldwin/Cindy Crawford thriller of the same name, this latest entry into the ever-expanding "War on Terror" genre is a far more sombre, worthy affair. It's also a lot less fun. It's a well acted, well crafted and clearly well intentioned film that never manages to escape being just a little bit dull and too worthy for its own good.

There's no getting past it, the Bush administration simply makes a very easy target for the left-wing media. And deservedly so. Not since Nixon and Vietnam have socially conscious liberals (liberal Americans, specifically) had so much to get so thoroughly worked up about. From a dubious election win to an even more dubious war, to the administration's right-wing Christian-fundamentalist slant, there has been plenty to complain about. Unfortunately, well-meaning as it may well be, Fair Game does not live up to the righteous (though manipulative) anger of Fahrenheit 9/11, nor the tragic humanity of Grace is Gone and it certainly doesn't measure up to Neil Young's gloriously pissy protest album, Living With War. Most damning of all is that it treads far too often on similar ground to Paul Greengrass's far superior Green Zone.

The true story, based on the books by the real Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, is certainly interesting and more than deserving of being told. And, to the film's credit, it is interesting and intellectually compelling throughout. What it isn't, though, is emotionally engrossing. Fair Game may gesture towards the raw emotional reactions that most of us will have towards bullying governments, deceitful leaders, struggling underdogs, treacherous bosses and crumbling marriages but, in the end, the film still feels oddly cold.

Along with its incredible story, the movie does have some impressive pedigree involved, both in front of and behind the cameras. Director Doug Liman may be responsible for dross like Mr and Mrs Smith and Jumper but he also has some very solid films to his credit in the form of The Bourne Identity, Go and Swingers. Performance-wise, the film's two lead actors, Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, are two of Hollywood's safest bets and they do very fine work here. On the other hand, excellent an actor as he so demonstrably is, Penn is also famous for being terminally sincere, earnest even, in his liberal politics and his film choices. Admirable as that may well be, it has to be said that this gravity doesn't always serve the films he appears in. 

The moments when Joseph angrily confronts the injustices that the US government is visiting upon, not only the  American public in general but his family in particular, are probably the most emotionally potent of the film. Even here, this anger – which is no doubt shared by a great many of the film's audience – is tempered by a certain hesitancy. For the film to truly succeed it needed sharper teeth and a far larger set of balls. As a protest film, it also certainly could have benefited from a sense of humour – after all, if you're going to kick authority in the teeth, it helps to have a manic smile on your face and a middle finger outstretched. Or, at the very least, armed with an ironic turn of phrase. Just ask any well meaning punk. Or Bob Dylan.

Ironically, Fair Game is just so po-faced that, no matter how much it may beg for you to do so, it's hard to truly take it seriously.

A solid entry in the ever-expanding "War on Terror" genre that ends up taking its anti-establishment stance far too seriously.
Read more on:    naomi watts  |  sean penn  |  review  |  movies

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