NBC Review: New Spy Drama Is "Fair Game"

November 5th, 2010

BY Scott Ross // Thursday, Nov 11, 2010

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Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman have both enjoyed great success directing “Bourne” films, and this year each has tackled the Bush Administration’s run-up to the Iraq War from very different directions.

Where Greengrass’ “Green Zone” was a sloppy, curiously fictionalized actioner set in Baghdad, Liman’s “Fair Game” is a much more affecting and tense drama set primarily in Washington, D.C., that focuses on former CIA operative Valeria Plame and her husband Joe Wilson.

“Fair Game,” stars Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as Wilson, in the story of how she came to have her cover blown by the Bush Administration. The move was alleged punishment by the administration for her husband having refuted the president’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s efforts to buy yellow cake uranium for his WMD program. Jez and John-Henry Butterworth adapted the screenplay from Plame and Wilson’s memoirs “Fair Game” and “The Politics of Truth.”

How you respond to the film will depend almost entirely on your politics and personal recollections of the events recreated here. Lefties will gnash their teeth in gleeful rage, reminiscing about what monsters Bush, Cheney, Rove and Libby were; conservatives will shake their heads in disgust at what traitorous dogs Plame and Wilson were. Regardless, the film is a gripping — if Plame-centric — recounting of the events.

“Fair Game” is often at its best when it focuses on how the scandal affected the Plame-Wilson family personally. Lost in the public howling over the politics in play was the fact that a marriage was very nearly torn apart. As in “The Kids Are All Right,” part of what makes “Fair Game” work is the fact the family at the heart of the story is so normal. Equally fascinating is the way the film ponders the machinations a spy living among us must go through, lying to everyone they know, even their closest friends, and juggling multiple identities.

The story of their struggle with the Bush Administration is a riveting thriller, but the film never pushes back against the Plame-Wilson line. There are any number of questions brought up by the incidents, but the film doesn’t take the time to ask them. There’s no question that Wilson acted honorably, that Bush lied, that Rove, Libby and Cheney conspired simply to destroy Plame. If this story were a piece of fiction, it wouldn’t be an issue. But these events led to a war we’re still fighting today.

As Valerie Plame, Watts does a fantastic job of conveying the strain of being a career public servant who is finally backed into a corner that she can only escape from by going against her superiors. It’s runs counter to the values of a former Air Force brat with two decades experience at the CIA. And Penn was born to play Joe Wilson, a man who, like himself, possesses a personality only overshadowed by the size of his ego and convictions.

“Fair Game” deftly puts a human face on tragic events that led to the U.S. going to war in Iraq, showing the damage that was done to one family as well as countless victims you’ve never heard of.