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Old 11-19-2010, 03:26 PM
Doug Liman's Fair Game

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

Fair Game (2010)

"Fair Game" is a political thriller based on true events surrounding the outing of a CIA agent by members of the Bush Administration in 2003. This is how the film has been advertised and marketed, but to call it a full-on political thriller is not very accurate. "Political drama" is a more appropriate term for this film as it spends much of its time filling us in on the politics before getting anywhere near the resulting events.

It begins by introducing us to Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), a CIA agent in charge of certain operations in the Middle East. Her section is currently trying to determine whether a supply of metal tubings is being bought in order to build weapons and whether a deal has been made between Niger and Iraq for the purchase of uranium. In order to find this out, they recruit Valerie's husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), an ambassador who has connections that will allow him to investigate. After spending some time in Niger, he discovers that such a deal most likely would not have been possible.

Sometime later, while watching the State of the Union address, he notices that President Bush mentions that such a deal did take place. In response to this, Joe types up an article for The New York Times explaining his findings while overseas, basically saying that the White House's intel was wrong. Not long after this, an article is published mentioning that Joe's wife is a CIA agent, which blows her cover and ruins her current operations. Joe and Valerie must now determine the best course of action to handle the situation all the while dealing with the negative spin put on their efforts to out the truth.

The first half of the film is where it deals with the political set up behind the story, but it is also where the film dwells too long. It spends about an hour going over all of the background leading up to Joe's article and Valerie's cover being blown when it could have spent much less time with it and gotten to the actual story sooner. In a sense, it felt as though the first half was an overly-long briefing before the actual story started.

That's not to say the first half is a complete waste. There are some interesting sections that fill us in on what Valerie was doing overseas. One of her operations involved finding out information about a possible weapons program in Iraq. In order to find out about it, she sends the sister of one of the scientists in Iraq to visit him. When the sister confronts him with questions about weapons, his reaction is most curious: the weapons program was destroyed and the US knows it. This is merely another piece of the puzzle that gets added to after Joe hears the false intel from the State of the Union.

The second half begins to make up for the first half by finally starting the plot. Plot really is the right word for the situation that Joe and Valerie find themselves in because they feel that the White House is plotting against them. They believe that the White House retaliated against Joe's article by leaking Valerie's name. Meanwhile, Valerie has to deal with the fact that she can't run her operations anymore, so she is no longer able to help the weapons scientists escape Iraq like she had promised, and Joe must deal with the spin being put on his campaign to clear their names.

What was particularly interesting about the second half were the different ways in which Joe and Valerie chose to deal with the situation. Joe speaks out openly about the whole situation, going on TV, and making public speeches while Valerie prefers to remain quiet, possibly in hopes that the whole thing will blow over on its own. This difference of opinion is so strong that it nearly destroys their marriage. Watts and Penn do a satisfying job of portraying this struggle, particularly in one scene that finds them arguing face to face about the White House's attempt to bury the truth.

The film ends on a rather anticlimactic note, seeing as how most people already know the outcome for the major characters like Scooter Libby (former-Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff), but it does lead to some interesting thoughts about the start of the Iraq War. Did the Bush Administration alter the intel that Joe brought back in order to justify the war? Did they out Valerie in order to prevent her from saving the weapons scientists or was it just a coincidence in their favor? These and other questions about possible weapons are still being asked today.

Overall, it's not a bad film, but in the end, it becomes hard to recommend only half of it. If the filmmakers had skimmed off some of the exposition from the first half, and tightened it up in order to get to the main part of the story faster, it would have worked a lot better. There's certainly an interesting movie to be made out of this material, but it doesn't help if you have to wait around for about an hour to get to it. 2.5/4 stars.
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