12 November 2010 | aschein81
"Fair Game" combines strong performances and compelling drama with a very personal look into the abuse of power in government
One of the major events that President George W. Bush will undoubtedly be remembered for in history will be his decision to declare war on Iraq in 2003. If we recall back to early 2003 when the administration was laying out its reasons for invading Iraq, the one most marketed to the American public was the idea that Saddam Hussein was in the process of creating chemical or nuclear weapons, which he would then give to terrorists who could then use them to attack American cities. Of course, soon after the war began it was discovered that these weapons either never existed or no longer existed, and to this day no one in the CIA or federal government has been able to explain how the intelligence community could have gotten it so wrong.
"Fair Game" places itself right in the middle of these controversial events between 2002 and 2004, and is told through the eyes of CIA Agent Valerie Plame (played very convincingly by Naomi Watts) and her husband, United Nations Ambassador Joe Wilson (played fiercely by the always great Sean Penn). The film's story follows how Plame goes from patriotic CIA agent diligently doing her job overseas to suddenly having her identity made public after her husband uncovered false information about a nuclear development sale between Iraq and Niger. This false information about a uranium sale between these two countries is important because it was implied as factual when Bush was listing information about Iraq during his State of The Union Speech in early 2003.
As the film starts, Plame and Wilson appear to be a very loving couple with a very strong marriage - they even have 2 small children who live with them in the D.C. area. Plame is busy traveling covertly to countries in The Middle East to shake her fist at people whom might have ties to terrorists, while Wilson is back at home, often finding himself in heated arguments with friends at the dinner table whom hold a different opinions from his own. Both Plame and Wilson appear to be relatively non-political civilians working peacefully and dutifully for the federal government - until the Bush administration decides that the country should invade Iraq. After Wilson criticizes the administration's faulty information publicly, Plame is then fired from her job, and much of the rest of the film focuses on how the couple's marriage is stressed because of what is transpiring all over the media. People harass them often when they go out, as Wilson makes rounds on the media circuit to try to restore his name. The film has a little bit of a soap-operish feel to it during the 2nd half in that it is mostly focused on the couple's relationship, but the acting performances by Watts and Penn are just so sharp that they make up for some of the film's small flaws when it comes to storytelling. There is also a small subplot involving a family in Iraq connected with Plame's counter-proliferation efforts that should have been either developed more or left out entirely, as that is the weakest part of the film - but fortunately those scenes are relatively few in the entire film.
Aside from the acting, another of the film's strengths is how it never gets too preachy towards the Bush administration, but rather focuses on the facts of what unfairly happened to Plame and Wilson from their own points of view. In fact, no actor plays Bush or Cheney in the film - we only see a few clips of the real Bush and Cheneys giving speeches on TV screens for a matter of seconds. Scooter Libby (portrayed a bit villainously by David Andrews) is seen in a few short scenes as a swindler who tries to convince CIA employees into manipulating the intelligence the way he sees it, but his characterization is very subtle, rather than as an in your face bad guy. Doug Liman's direction is also fairly fast-paced to make sure the film never gets too bogged down in pointless scenes. Even though it is very talky and dialogue-driven, the narrative keeps moving forward at a crisp pace - at least if audience members are adults without ADD (and I think it's pretty fair to say that this movie isn't marketed for the Transformers or Twilight crowd...) The film generally works very well both as an entertaining drama, spy thriller, and an educational lesson. Moreover, it's an intelligent reminder to the public of how people in positions in power in government will often stop at nothing to achieve their desired goals, even if that means illegally abusing their power through misinformation, manipulation, and character assassination. As citizens we should constantly be questioning our leaders and their motives, as well as keeping them honest and holding them accountable whenever they they violate our trust.
On a final note, I have to say that I find it very refreshing to see a film like this that has a woman in a very intelligent leading role, rather than how Hollywood films usually stereotype females in formulaic romantic comedies. It seems like women in major roles usually have their sappy characters obsessing about trying to find a man and buying shoes, with some slapstick and comedy at the dinner table with their parents thrown in as well (a.k.a. chick flicks). It's either that or the female characters get almost zero screen time, where they are relegated to simply being the cute girlfriend sidekick. It's nice to see movies like this allow womens' dramatic acting talents to shine and allow us to see them as complex, real characters.