Directed by: Doug Liman
Premise: The true story of CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). Taking place in the early days of the Iraq war, Wilson writes an op-ed for The New York Times claiming the Bush Administration lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. In retaliation, high ranking administration officials expose Plame’s CIA status and put Plame’s safety and the integrity of ongoing intelligence operations at risk.
What Works: Fair Game is simultaneously a political thriller and a domestic drama and the film effectively marries these genres together. The thriller elements of the story give the narrative its underlying framework and provide the story with a shape and a focus while the domestic elements allow for some great character work that deepens the drama and raises the personal stakes of the story. The film covers a lot of ground in both areas, including Plame’s professional relationships within the Central Intelligence Agency, the agency’s attempts to discover the truth about the weapons, the couple’s social relationships as well as their relationship with each other, and the personal and political fallout of Wilson’s article and Plame’s exposure. All this material is introduced and dealt with in a very judicious and effective way and screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth effectively overlap and crisscross all of these angles of the story to create a complex web of actions and reactions. Sean Penn and Naomi Watts are very good in their roles and the two create a credible onscreen relationship. This is integral to the story as the film focuses on the near destruction of their marriage, and Penn and Watts’ relationship provides an appeal that is critical to the film’s success.
What Doesn’t: The only flaw of Fair Game is in its ending. The story lacks a satisfying resolution that ties up all the various story elements. The story does possess a climax, although it is a more nuanced, emotional climax than a loud action packed conclusion familiar to spy films.
Bottom Line: Fair Game is a very good film with some very strong performances. The storytelling is effective and the film is an important dramatization of recent events analogous to the way All the President’s Men captured the definitive political story of the 1970s.
Episode: #317 (December 5, 2010)