Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fair Game Movie Review


I am going to admit that I'm very angry about the 2003 Iraq War. Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11, did not attack us, and did not have weapons of mass destruction. So for me, it might make reviewing Fair Game, a film about the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame in retaliation for her husband's criticism of the Iraq War, a difficult proposition. Knowing the film is based on two books by both Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, would I lose my objectivity? So what I did, was to evaluate this movie on its filmmaking and try to ignore what I already knew about the 2003 Iraq war.

Fair Game is the story of real life CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and former ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). We find that Plame and Wilson do their best to live normal lives despite Plame being a CIA agent. They have twins. The have dinner with friends in which it's quickly established that Joe Wilson cannot conceal his opinions even if it means embarrassing friends. How obnoxious is this? Later in the movie, a cab driver from Sierra Leone talks about his home in glowing terms. Wilson who's been to all parts of Africa and Sierra Leone, tells him that his home is a s..thole. Of course, that's an accurate assessment because the cabbie readily agrees.

When stories about Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium yellow cake from Niger came out, the CIA sent Joe Wilson to investigate. His evaluation was that there was nothing to the story. But then President George W. Bush in making his case for war, uttered the famous 16 words during the state of union address, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." That set Wilson off. In July of that year, Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times detailing that he did not find Hussein bought uranium from Niger. In response administration officials leaked information that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. The purpose? To discredit Wilson, to make it look like Wilson was sent to Niger as a junket.

Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), writers Jez and John Butterworth have made a film that tones down as much political rhetoric as they can, to give the movie a documentary feel. Liman exhibits a love for the hand held camera which is okay here since he uses it for dialogue scenes. You won't get nauseous looking at the screen. But keeping the film as fact based as possible also sucks some of the life out of it. For example, a scene in which Plame must recruit a female American- Iraqi falls flat because there's no emotion. Fear and angst are missing. Later on, there's a scene where the woman accuses Plame of failing her. This scene fails because it's too subdued. Where the direction succeeds is the focus on the effect of the outing has on Plame's family. It nearly disintegrates Plame's marriage until she realizes what Wilson did was the right thing.

As for the acting, its all excellent. There's not one wrong note in Naomi Watts' performance. Watts exhibits Plame's strength during the crisis and when it comes to almost breaking her, she uses that moment to drive her to action. Sean Penn is his usual spectacular self. Penn's voice is a force. It exhibits his emotions as much as his face.

The Iraq War killed thousands and cost the country billions of dollars. And for what? There were no weapons of mass destruction. Fair Game is a sincere look at choosing politics over truth. It's a little dry. But the performances of Watts and Penn lift the film The grade is B.

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