New York Daily News Reviews Fair Game

November 5th, 2010

New York Daily News

‘Fair Game’ review: Doug Liman’s more suspenseful, tragic take on the real Valerie Plame story

Elizabeth Weitzman

Friday, November 5th 2010, 4:00 AM

‘Fair Game’ stars Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame, a real-life CIA spy who was exposed as an agent.

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Though based on a true story with a well-known outcome, Doug Liman’s “Fair Game” is as suspenseful as any fictional thriller — and considerably more tragic.

The film opens in 2001, as undercover agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) unsuccessfully researches weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Her husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), is also sent on a fact-finding mission, during which he finds nothing at all.

After the Bush administration dismisses the reports they present, Wilson angers the White House by taking his concerns public. Before he knows it, his wife is exposed as an agent and doubt is publicly cast on his own motivations. Their lives only go downhill from there.

Partisans are likely to cast doubt on director Liman’s motivations in dramatizing this story, not to mention those of the outspokenly liberal Penn. But Liman and his screenwriters, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, handle the facts with intelligence and artistic integrity.

They don’t simply relay details, but contextualize them, giving thoughtful consideration to shifting media standards, corruption of power and the insidious new clout that even false accusations carry in the Internet era.

Those hoping for a documentary-style analysis will be disappointed. Liman condenses or skips over several key factors, including the essential roles of journalists Robert Novak and Judith Miller. But it’s no easy feat to keep audiences on edge while retelling a familiar story, or to shock us as old outrages come tumbling into the light once again.