Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: Fair Game

Fair Game (2010)

Dir: Doug Liman
Starring Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shephard

Fair Game will go down in history alongside All The President's Men and The Insider as one of the finest real-life thrillers ever made.

If that's an overstatement, it will at the very least be another in a list of films in which Sean Penn makes real people seem intensely awesome (Milk, The Falcon and the Snowman and arguably Spicoli are on that list).  As former ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson, Penn practically holds court in every scene, even ones where he's not on a lecturing tour.

The intense, and surprisingly personal, drama chronicles the 2002/2003 lead up to and execution of the Iraq War, during which Wilson's wife Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) was outed in a column by Robert Novak (not in the film...or on earth anymore) as a CIA operative.  The leak, fowarded along by "Scooter" Libby (David Andrews) as revenge for an Op-ed Wilson wrote about WMDs in Iraq, slowly disintegrates their lives as Wilson fights in the press for vindication and Plame holds a dignified silence.

Watts does some very good, quiet work here particularly early on while she attempts to get nuclear scientists in Iraq safe passage.  The film soon switches from a first-rate espionage thriller to a heartbreaking family drama, where it focuses more on Penn.    

Wilson is the best kind of bastardly curmudgeon; a man of great conviction and righteous indignation who has a small problem speaking up a little too easily.  When Jon Stewart publicly scolded CNN's Crossfire (an event that took place shortly after those in the film, no less), Tucker carlson asked him if this is what he did with dinner guests as well.  It was Wilson he should have been worried about.  He berates dinner guests, friends, and reporters - all the while chomping on cigars, a fact that nearly every journalist who has met Wilson loves to mention (reporters, we get it, he likes cigars).

It's his short fuse that becomes his achilles heel, as his mairrage splits in two paths - his to find justice, hers to be left alone.

The film's only flaw are the scenes that follow Libby and Karl Rove as they plot to destroy Plame. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their cohorts are on television throughout the film, lending it a spooky Orwellian quality.  To bring us behind the curtain, rather than marvel at it's hulking monolith, feels unnecessary.  To be fair, Andrews manages to make Scooter Libby a surprisingly threatening villian for a man who, in reality, looks like and is called Scooter Libby.

Doug Liman's you-are-there technique previously brought to the Bourne films works in some early action sequences, but really shines in quiet, personal scenes.  He brings to the fore an overwhelming sense of outrage at what these people fell victim to.  The collateral damage is severe, and it we all now know it doesn't end there.    

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