REVIEW: Fair Game [2010]

“I’d rather kill my friends in error than allow my enemy to live”

After an interesting career trajectory spanning a pretty spotless list of comedies (Go), actioners (The Bourne Identity), and a mix of the two (Mr. & Mrs. Smith), it’s interesting to see director Doug Liman take on a political thriller. Most akin to his debut (Swingers), despite completely disparate genres and subject matter, Fair Game relies entirely on the characters taking us through the war zone of lies concerning why our country went to Iraq in search of WMDs. It all hinges on the performances of Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, our belief in the conspiracies and criminal activity going on as a direct result of seeing them as wrongful victims to the political system, and its cutthroat nature of cutting anyone loose who doesn’t fall in line. With a script from Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, the tale is culled together from both Valerie Plame’s (Watts) book Fair Game and her husband Joseph Wilson’s (Penn) The Politics of Truth, so they do their best getting all angles, disseminating these first-hand experiences as fact, (since there is no mention of Robert Novak’s part in the escapade, Scooter Libby’s persumed innocence, or the fact Plame may not have been covert for five years to say otherwise), to tell a story that ought to be told, not to editorialize and be simply an anti-war film like Green Zone ends up with similar subject matter.

It is a pretty intriguing escapade on behalf of the Bush administration and the office of Dick Cheney, doing everything it can to make declarations an Iraq nuclear program is true. The key component to it all, Kristoffer Ryan Winters’s Joe Turner—the one politico who believes a shipment of aluminum tubes has to be for the enrichment of uranium—may come off as a bit of a prick, not so subtly making a comment on the ignorance and bloodlust of those orchestrating the lie, but I’d say also is the only blatant pandering done to an assumed audience of liberal-minded people who can align their disgust for Republicans to the character. Besides this one maneuver, the rest of the story does captivate as it shows the lengths Watts’s Plame went to uncover the truth to the Iraq nuclear program, supposedly dismantled back in the 90s in full knowledge of America, and the word-twisting, fast-talking of the Vice President’s office as it confuses and befuddles the CIA after its analysts all but assure WMDs simply can’t exist there.

One can’t really blame the agency and their treatment of one of their own—who are they to risk careers and a multitude of troops overseas by stepping against the executive branch—and as a result, David Andrews’s Scooter Libby becomes the villain of this story, the man with an agenda to manufacture facts and put all the government’s ducks in a row. I’ll admit that it’s fun to watch these CIA analysts confused and unable to stake their lives on the hypothesis those tubes aren’t for nuclear use, later watching their surprised faces watching Cheney, Bush, etc use the exact same verbiage as Turner, he becoming the source of their coaching in order to trick the American people with details meant to instill fear as they also alter the findings of Wilson’s retired Ambassador’s work in Niger, he having discovered rumors of a yellow cake deal with Iraq unfounded. It is his idea to set the record straight and come forward as the source the Bush administration was using to say uranium from Africa was on its way to the Middle East, proving it false, which sets the series of events to follow in motion.

You have to wonder what would have happened if Wilson and Plame were more open about their actions and privy to what the other was doing/thinking. Even though she was watching as the CIA’s findings were dismissed and misused, she still had covert connections to extract the scientists supposedly creating the WMDs, but really just trying to survive and not be killed by Saddam’s men keeping watch. If Wilson knew her plans, maybe he wouldn’t have been so rash to speak his mind so openly against the government, an action directly connected to the outing of his wife as a covert operative, destroying her career and all in-progress missions, and also bringing upon death threats and media scrutiny the likes they aren’t equipped to deal with. Both served their country to the utmost of their ability and were betrayed as a result, but while he took it upon himself to tell the world of the atrocities brought on them, she realized the futility of it all, knowing the White House was too powerful to take on. It’s a thin line between clearing your name and finding guilty those responsible while also knowingly subverting the government, calling into question the reasons behind so many soldier deaths overseas.

Fair Game is just as much a look into the politics surrounding the almost unreal situation of US officials knowingly uncovering the identity of a covert operative to the press as it is a family drama of overcoming adversity and becoming stronger despite it. Watts and Penn are fantastic on both sides of the coin, showing the passion of their ideals, the frustration of what’s happened to them, and the emotional turmoil it has caused on a personal level to their marriage. One can’t help but wonder how much real acting Penn had to do on his pulpit, touring the country and speaking out against the Bush regime—he pretty much did that in real life too—but you can’t deny his effectiveness when opposite a wife who’s had her life’s work taken away. The supporting cast is great too, whether CIA agents, Michael Kelly being a standout; enlisted civilian spies such as Liraz Charhi; or Khaled Nabawy’s Hammad, the man caught in the middle and made terrorist when, according to the film, he was simply a physicist looking to get his life back.

One also shouldn’t disregard the dinner parties that occur between Wilson, Plame, and their friends consisting of Thomas McCarthy, Ty Burrell, Jessica Hecht, and Brooke Smith, amongst others, for their authentic portrayal of the American people’s ease of being brainwashed by the media and the half-truths fed. Like most people I know, these normal people sit around with their wine and wax political about things they know nothing about besides a cursory glimpse from the skewed television station diatribe they choose to watch. I loved catching the glances between Watts and Penn as the conversations heated up, both knowing the truth through their experiences—her firsthand knowledge of the aluminum tubes being spoken of and he having actually stood face to face with Saddam. Unfortunately that is the world we live in, one that preaches freedom of speech and open accessibility of information, but in action censors everything. I also find some humor in the fact that a line from Ben Franklin is used about him giving us “a republic, if we can keep it” as a way to show our power to kick Bush out, right on the cusp of a mere two years later as we go back to the Republican party once again. It’s that ability to instill change that makes this country great.

Fair Game 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] NAOMI WATTS and SEAN PENN star in FAIR GAME. Photo Credit: Ken Regan © 2010 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
[2] (L to R) MICHAEL KELLY, NAOMI WATTS and NOAH EMMERICH star in FAIR GAME. Photo Credit: Ken Regan © 2010 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
[3] Khaled Nabawy stars as Hamed in Summit Entertainment’s Fair Game (2010)

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