Dir: Doug Liman • WRI: Jez Butterworth, John Henry Butterworth • PRO: Doug Liman, Jez Butterworth, Akiva Goldsman, William Pohlad, Jerry Zucker, Janet Zucker • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • DOP: Doug Liman • DES: Jess Gonchor • Cast: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, David Andrews, Noah Emmerich
Alas, my heart sank when I realized that the film I was about to see was not a remake of the 1995 forgotten Cindy Crawford-William Baldwin classic but a in fact change of pace low-key political drama from the go to high concept action film-maker of the past decade, Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) focusing on the Plame Affair, one of the key scandals in recent American political history. in which Valerie Plame was exposed as a covert CIA Intelligence operative by a Washington post columnist in 2003 due to leaks from officials of the Dubya administration thus compromising her job and her career.
As the film opens, Plame (Naomi Watts) is heading up the CIA’s Counter-proliferation department in Iran, establishing contacts and intelligence within the region in order to control and prevent the distribution and manufacturing of weapons thus minimizing or neutralizing any possible foreign threats to US soil. After being asked to head up an investigation into the possible sale of uranium to Iraq by Niger, her colleagues suggest the involvement of Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn) in determining the truth of the allegations.
Wilson visits Niger and comes to the conclusion that no transaction had ever occurred between the two states but after the US invasion of Iraq in early 2003, he writes a column entitled ‘What I Didn’t Find in Africa’ in which he suggests that the Bush administration ignored or twisted the facts in order to exaggerate the threat presented by Saddam Hussein and justify an all out campaign of war against the Iraqi regime. In response, information is leaked by Bush officials to a journalist at the Washington Post, Plame is mentioned as an ‘agency operative’, thus exposing her as a CIA agent, compromising her intelligence and effectively ending her career. In effect, the government illegally executes an insidious smear campaign in order to discredit Wilson’s findings and deflect attention away from the Iraq War.
Liman’s film centres primarily on Plame and Wilson’s relationship as they go through their personal ordeal and presents a believable geo-political backdrop on a relatively tight budget with Liman being forced to use real news footage of events rather than recreating them wholesale although this could also be functioning as an effective strategy in keeping the audience involved rather than jarring them out of film’s version of the truth.
On a technical level, Fair Game is solidly put together, acted and directed with little of the flashy moves Liman has brought to his larger budget efforts as he adopts a low key approach throughout, submitting to the narrative and letting the intrinsic dramatic strength of the events pull the audience in. Or at least I assume that was his intention. In this reviewer’s case, as much as I admired the films level of craft – an artful artlessness if that’s possible – there was a certain urgency or energy lacking in Fair Game that was hard to put my finger on.
Watts and Penn, two fine actors portray Plame and Wilson with minimal histrionics, putting across their intelligence, integrity and love for each other, they never come across as particularly compelling or unique protagonists. Obviously, with a film based on a true story, adhesion to the facts and respectfulness towards those alive or dead is expected but here our main characters came across as mainly worthy and slightly dull with a storyline and rhythm that hum along at a comfortable speed with ever shifting up a gear.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a compelling story and it is one that was vital in exposing the degree of lawlessness that existed within Bush’s government at the time but when compared with other fact based Washington thrillers such as Alan J Pakula’s riveting All The President’s Men, Liman seems merely content to only present us with the facts and very few frills. He is fair minded in his approach, liberal it would seem; never fully committing to a point of view with the final result being a sleek showroom car lacking the fuel or fire to take it that extra mile it would need to burn in the memory.
Derek Mc Donnell
IFCO website for details)
Fair Game is released on 11th March 2011