Review: Fair Game (2010)

Fair Game is a new political conspiracy-thriller from The Bourne Identity and Jumper director Doug Liman.

The film is based on the autobiography of real-life undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), whose career was destroyed and marriage strained to its limits when her covert identity was exposed by a politically motivated press leak.

As a covert officer in the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division, Valerie leads an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Valerie’s husband, diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), is drawn into the investigation to substantiate an alleged sale of enriched uranium from Niger. But when the administration ignores his findings and uses the issue to support the call to war, Joe writes a New York Times editorial outlining his conclusions and ignites a firestorm of controversy.

Liman keeps things moving at a tight and efficient pace, but the overall aesthetic is quite dull – mostly existing in subdued shades and dulled environments – and he uses the handheld, shaky camera technique far too much.

The visuals and direction aren’t necessarily are bad, but they are bland and don’t engage with the viewer enough to maintain our attention – Liman was clearly going for a realistic tone but instead misses the mark and creates something fake in the way he overplays the solemnity of the source material.

The script, from John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, feels too convulted, moving from engaging political thriller to uncomfortable and uninteresting family melodrama in a clumsy and equivocal manner.

The performances are uneven. Watts steps into Valerie’s shoes accurately enough, but the material doesn’t have enough depth or emotional heart for her to show her true talent and diversity.

Penn, on the other hand, wonderfully depicts Joe’s inner turmoil, torn between two acts that both seem right in their own way; to protect his family or to expose a political scandal that’s torn his family to pieces.

These characters are are all too simple caricatures of what the filmmakers think these people are really like. They aren’t fleshed out enough for you to feel much sympathy for their personal and career downfalls.

Fair Game asks some interesting questions, but never quite reaches the heights it should, especially considering the powerful source material, renowned direction and world-class acting talent on hand.

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