(Dir. Doug Liman, 2010)
The true story of former CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband retired diplomat Joesph C. Wilson is told in this thriller/melodrama based on Plame's book "Fair Game: My Life As A Spy, My Betrayal By The White House."
As portrayed by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (in their third film together) we follow them through the dense details of how their reputations were besmirched by the Bush administration in the early aughts when Wilson reported that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Plame's CIA identity was exposed in the press and Wilson's work for the government is threatened, but the film seems to stress that what was more important is that their marriage was being torn apart.
It begins with Plame recruiting her husband to travel to Africa to investigate reports that Niger has sold 50 tons of "yellowcake" uranium ore to Saddam Hussein. Of course, he finds no trace of yellowcake and files a report to that effect as well as writes an op-ed piece for the New York Times entitled "What I Didn't Find In Africa."
The controversy surrounding the couple, stupidly dubbed "Plamegate", becomes extremely messy as does the movie. Many scenes are too strained and too choppy for the appropriate mood and there's an annoying inconsistent shaki-cam framing which detracts from its possible emotional power.
It's the stateside companion to Paul Greengrass's just as forced film GREEN ZONE in which army officer Matt Damon complains to an excruciating degree about not being able to find Weapons of Mass Destruction anywhere.
Penn and Watts make a convincing couple - their arguments over Plame's reluctance to go public with the facts are initially involving, but their attempts at intensity grow more and more tiresome as the film progresses to its predictable conclusion.
There is a wasted, and fictional, subplot involving an Iraqi doctor (Israeli actress Liraz Charhi) who works with Plame to find out the extent of Iraq's nuclear program. This also concerns the doctor's physicist brother in Baghdad, played by Khaled Nabawy, who Plame promises will be safely re-located if he helps out. We also get Chief of Staff Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and Senior Advisor Karl Rove (Adam LeFevre) basically just being evil as they plot to discredit the heroic couple.
Then there's a cameo by Sam Shepherd as Plame's wise father that's so badly shot that we can barely see it's him until halfway through the scene. With it's speechifying and constantly interspersed ominous shots of Washington locations (the White House, the Capital, the Pentagon, etc.) FAIR GAME has noble intentions, but its the cinematic equivalent of listening to hours of the liberal radio network Air America.
Hearing the hosts bitching non-stop about how we were lied to in order to justify the Iraq war - even if you agreed with them - was painful and a large part of why that network failed. And it's the main reason this film fails too.