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Fair Game (A Movie Review)

Updated: Oct 14, 2023

Fair Game

Fair Game

FAIR GAME (2010)

Starring Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Noah Emmerich, Bruce McGill, Liraz Charchi, Khaled Nabawy, David Andrews, Ty Burrell, Jessica Hecht, Tom McCarthy, Ashley Gerasimovich, Quinn Broggy, Adam LeFevre, Sam Shepard and Polly Holliday.

Screenplay by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth.

Directed by Doug Liman.

Distributed by Summit Entertainment.  108 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

It’s always a little tricky to do a true movie about recent history.

Fair Game hits the multiplexes with a lot of political baggage and a lot of heated debate and propaganda about the subject – even though most legitimate and unbiased sources agree that the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame due to political reasons was at the very least illegal and immoral, at worst it could be called all-out treason.

After all, treason would have been the charge had anyone else gone and outed an undercover special agent, leaving many of her co-workers and informants in mortal danger.  However, in this case, because the outing was done by White House insider Scooter Libby – quite probably at the bequest of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the case was swept under the rug.

It is shocking just several years later how few people know the details of the Plame case.

Therefore, it makes for a fascinating and dramatic film.  Director Doug Limon – who usually goes for lighter fare (Swingers, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) – does a good job at being compellingly neutral in sharing the story.  While the film does obviously believe that Plame was wrongly treated it does the interesting trick of turning an important political story into a more personal story – a beltway Scenes from a Marriage.

In fact, her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson – who inadvertently set things into motion when he publicly announced that the Bush Administration had misrepresented his findings about the possibility of Iraq getting uranium for nukes in their argument for going to war with Iraq – is actually shown to be a rather vain, hard-headed man.

Also Plame is not only shown to be a smart spy but also a worried mother who sees the scandal brewing around them not only as a bureaucrat but also in the ways that it is affecting her family.

Naomi Watts does a terrific job as Plame – in turns smart and competent on one hand and worried and devastated on the other.  Sean Penn takes a chance at playing Wilson as a bit of a cold fish who will never back down from a fight no matter how impossible it is to win.  They are surrounded by a capable supporting cast who bring this underreported real life event to vivid and chilling light.

Now it is only ethical for me to admit that I very, very slightly knew Plame when we were both undergraduates at Pennsylvania State University in the mid-80s.  In fact, I didn’t even make the connection until the story had been in the papers for quite some time and a friend from college asked if I remembered knowing her from school.  However, I have not seen her since then and the fact that I barely knew her at Penn State does not color my viewpoint about what happened to her one iota.

Fair Game is an important film because it pulls back the curtain on an ugly episode in our recent political history.  The fact that it is also a touching family drama is just an added bonus.  Movies like this may be too small or too sensitive or too painful to grab a huge audience, but that is exactly what Fair Game deserves.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: November 3, 2010.

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