Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
The skullduggery of the political racket has always been fine film fodder from the beginning of cinema. It was an important element of Citizen Kane, and has contributed to some genuine masterpieces such as All The President's Men.
The latest effort to put politics on the big screen is, as they say, “ripped from the headlines” in Fair Game. This is the real-life story of former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame. He was sent to the Middle East in search of weapons of mass destruction. When his report, published in the New York Times, said there were no weapons, then the powers that be publicly outed Plame as a C.I.A. operative, who had been working under cover for years. Lives were jeopardized, intelligence was compromised, and needless to say, Wilson and Plame’s lives were in total turmoil. But rather than hide, they decided to fight. It was hard, it hurt both friends and family, but they did it because it was the right thing to do.
Fair Game was adapted from two books, one each by Plame and Wilson and capably directed by Doug Liman, who helmed The Bourne Identitiy, the first and best of that series. And while Fair Game is not meant to be another action-packed spy thriller, it still feels slow moving, like there are chunks missing. This likely comes from trying to cram two books into one movie. For example, the actor-playwright Sam Shepard is third-billed for one brief scene as Plame’s father. Logic says there may have been more to his role, but it probably ended up on the cutting room floor.
However, where the filmmakers got it completely right was in the casting of the lead roles. Naomi Watts keeps getting better with each assignment, and she is perfect for portraying Valerie Plame. They even resemble each other. She ably conveys the difficulties of one person trying to be wife, mother, and government operative. Sean Penn is astounding as Joe Wilson. He has a range of depth and emotion that makes Wilson come alive on screen. Story has it that during filming, the real Wilson was on the set every day. By the time shooting was finished, it was difficult to separate Wilson from Penn, as the Oscar-winning actor had completely captured that person and character. Say what you will about Sean Penn… no matter what, he is one incredibly fine actor.
Part of my disappointment with Fair Game is that these two electrifying performances needed to be in an overall better film. But that aside, Fair Game is still well worth seeing just to watch these two terrific actors at the top of their game.
In some ways, Fair Game reminded me of Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writier from earlier in the year. While The Ghost Writier is the better film, the themes and textures are similar. Maybe your homework assignment in Cinema 101 for this week should be to go see Fair Game, then rent The Ghost Writier on DVD. And as your high school English teacher always told you… compare and contrast.
The PG-13 rated Fair Game is currently showing at the Esquire and Mariemont theatres.