Fair Game (2010)

Fair Game, directed by Doug Limon, who was at the helm of the first of the Bourne trilogy (The Bourne Identity), has seemingly taken reality, and run it through a film processor. The result is that Fair Game is sort of like turning All The President’s Men (1974) inside out.

Back then, two determined reporters, and a fearless newspaper publisher, took on the sitting President’s government, and eventually brought it down, all in the pursuit of the truth. Here, in Fair Game, the truth was squelched, and the voice of the truth was held up as a fraud, a career CIA officer was outed, disparaged, then tossed aside, and we went to war in 2003.

The so-called WMD’s, weapons of mass destruction, turned out to be a different kind of WMD – weapons of a mass deception. At least, this is the intent of the film.

Fair Game is the story of a former CIA officer named Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, a career officer in the State Department’s Diplomatic corps but now an ex-diplomat named Joseph Wilson IV. Each of these people wrote a book about this period of time and their own involvement in what was basically called the run-up to the US-Iraq war.

Since this is a film review, I won’t make any statements about the veracity of the real facts as disseminated by newspapers, magazines, radio and tv. Nor will I make any comments about either of the books as I have not read them. I will say that the two books became the basis of the screenplay for this film, and the screenplay was written by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth.


The film is small in stature. It doesn’t have the look or feel of a  blockbuster. In fact, even the visuals of the film are served to us on a muted palette. It is not a black and white film, yet it looks far closer to b&w than it does to technicolor.

The scope is smaller as well. We don’t have actors portraying Dubya, Cheney, Powell, or Condoleezza Rice. Instead we have clips from some of the actual press briefings, state of the union speech, and assorted statements made and captured/broadcast by the media.

The film will reach you as a political thriller. But is also a tale of domesticity ripped apart. Naomi Watts, as Valerie Plame Wilson is a wife, a mother, and a ‘spy’ in the simplest of terms. Her real life activities for the CIA were indeed serious and important as well as covert. The role calls for Watts to portray a woman with strong convictions and capabilities who must live a double life. Only her husband and her parents knew that she was a CIA operative. None of her friends had any idea. So she had to lead her life with lying and deception as the norm.

Sean Penn plays her husband. His role is much more outward, meaning he was able to say the truth as he believed it – in interviews, in op-ed pieces he wrote for newspapers, and on tv talk shows. Watts had to internalize. She had to remain silent. Wilson readily took his perspective public.

The inherent stress of both of their lives because of the opposing inward and outward methods that each used, led to a near complete breakdown of their marriage. Almost. At one point Watts/Plame leaves her home and moves back with her parents.

While Joe continued to fight. He refused to simply lay down and take it.

So you have two stories going on in two arenas. The public story of the affair of the WMDs, and the private story of the marriage. The film places us somewhere dead-center between the two.

All The Presidents Men ended with a wire service like printer announcing the fates of those involved. It was staccato, and thrilling even though we already knew the outcome. Fair Game ends in a similar fashion with some personal outcomes that we might not have known about placed on screen for us to read, as well as some footage of the real Valerie Plame Wilson giving a deposition.

But somewhere in the aftermath of Fair Game, like when you come out of the theater, you do not have a sense of elation. You haven’t won anything, nor have you watched a film that vindicates or should I say validates your beliefs about this story. Most likely, no one’s opinion about these events will be changed by this film. This is not to say that the film fails in this regard. I don’t believe that changing anyone’s mind about what happened was the intent of this film production. Most of you who will see this film are already on the side that believes the Wilsons.

Instead, think of it this way. The story of the Plame affair does make for the foundation of a very good movie, and Limon’s direction does make this a worthwhile film that you should see.  Even if your beliefs are different than that of the principals, or that of the film makers.

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