Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fair Game

Doug Liman's Fair Game is the only film I can think of where every act feels like a completely different movie. As a whole it centers around Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative who (spoilers for real life, I guess) had her identity leaked to the press by Scooter Libby, Richard Armitage, and probably Karl Rove in arguably the most blatant act of knowing treason by any administration in American history as retaliation for her husband Joe Wilson writing an article detailing how Iraq didn't and never could have had weapons of mass destruction. But it tackles this story from three distinct angles, so much so that I'll just go ahead and basically write three separate reviews (the same way I wrote my last review of a Naomi Watts film, funnily enough).

The first act mostly focuses on Plame's CIA operations and Joe Wilson's trip to Niger wherein he concluded that Saddam could not have purchased the uranium from Africa that Bush claimed he did in the 2003 State of the Union address. Although we see Bush goons trying to strongarm the CIA into claiming Iraq has WMDs and some arguments on the matter, the film thankfully treats the nonexistence of said weaponry as a simple fact rather than a political stance. Sure, millions of mouthbreathers infecting my country either still believe that they had WMDs (and will for the rest of their lives, and will probably pass that nugget of "knowledge" onto their redneck children too) or have willfully forgotten and embraced the Republican Party line that the war was about "freeing the people of Iraq" all along, but neither of these groups will ever watch Fair Game anyway, or even hear about it outside of Rush Limbaugh or some other right-wing pustule mentioning it as another example of Hollywood being "out of touch with America." Because as we all know, bringing up utterly objective, cold hard facts is now regarded as liberal propaganda.

Anyway, this is the only part of the film that even vaguely feels like a thriller, but it's really all foreplay leading up to the main event of Plame's name and profession being leaked. If you want a movie more entirely centered around the nonexistence of WMDs in Iraq (albeit one seen through the eyes of fictional characters) you'd be better off watching Paul Greengrass's Green Zone from a few months back. Hell, that one even has action scenes! (And if you're a film buff you may have noticed that both of this year's movies about how Iraq never had WMDs were directed by people who directed Bourne films. Combine with Matt Damon doing the narration for the documentary Inside Job, which was released a week or two back, and it becomes clear that the Bourne series is just a hotbed of anti-American activities.)

The second act of Fair Game begins upon the start of the Iraq War and Joe Wilson's article denouncing the Bush administration's fabricated intelligence being published, when Scooter Libby and Karl Rove (the only two Bush administration officials actually played by actors in the film, although we see Bush, Cheney, and Condi via real footage on TVs and whatnot) decide to "change the story" by outing Plame and smearing her and Wilson to try and cover up the illegality of their war. This is the most blatantly political, most anger-stoking, and most strictly factual part of the film, even using real footage from Fox News, wherein Plame and Wilson, despite doing their work under a Republican president and being, you know, 100% right about everything they said, are smeared as left-wing "anti-war zealots" and accused of treason. And if what you're looking for is to feel the white-hot anti-Bush rage bubble up anew, which I'm always down for, it's the most effective part of the film too.

Finally, as the film wraps up, its focus is primarily turned on Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson's marriage and the strain the White House's campaign against them puts on it, as Plame is more inclined to sit quiet and let things blow over while Wilson wants to fight tooth and nail. They have some shouting matches and storm away from each other angrily a couple times and grow distant, and Plame goes to visit her elderly dad and tell him that she thinks her marriage is over. I guess this part of the film is nice in that it shows Fair Game to be about real people rather than the personality-free ciphers found in Green Zone, but even so I admit that it lost me a little bit and left me anxious for it to get back to politics. I can see marriages in turmoil in countless films and TV shows (hell, that's what Watts's story in her last film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was about too), but this is the only movie about the so-called "Plame Affair." Anyway, I won't say how it ends up, but since the facts of Plame and Wilson's marriage and Scooter Libby's indictment are public record, you probably don't need me to.

It's a movie that's impact is mostly reliant on the infuriating facts it's based upon, with the screenwriting and filmmaking and performances all perfectly competent and professional but none truly jumping out as deserving awards attention or anything. Naomi Watts does a good job as Plame but part of me kind of wishes someone other than Sean Penn was playing Joe Wilson. I mean, Penn is a fine actor, of course. He embodies a role with all he's got. But at the same time when a character played by Sean Penn starts railing against Bush's White House it becomes really, really hard to see anything other than Sean Penn. He almost jerks himself out of character. I'm all for Sean Penn acting but I kind of wish he would do more nonpolitical roles like Mystic River, because he's definitely stereotyped himself.

But all in all it's a fine film. I'm not crazy about the marriage turmoil and several of Sean Penn's scenes cross over that line into toxic preachiness, but it's a solid documentation from a unique angle of why the Bush administration will be remembered as the most corrupt in American history. Consider it another entry alongside The Hurt Locker, The Messenger, Green Zone, and Body of Lies in the annals of Iraq War-related movies that justify their existence. Another two or three good ones and the war, despite being the most embarrassing and horrific blemish in modern American history, will have produced a pretty respectable filmography.

3 Stars out of 5

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