“Fair Game” could be re-titled “One Hundred Minutes of Sean Penn Yelling ‘If We Don’t Tell the Truth No One Will!’” The retelling of the ripped-from-the-headlines tale of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), whose job as an undercover CIA agent was exposed by White House officials in an attempt to discredit her husband Joseph Wilson’s (Penn) claim that the Bush administration had falsified information about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is a different kind of spy story. There are no guns, no gadgets, just words—many of the yelled by Penn—classified documents and furtive meetings on lonely park benches. It does a nice job of recreating Bush era paranoia—“We don’t want this smoking gun to turn into a mushroom cloud!”—and exploring the chasm between truth and policy, but as a drama takes way too long to get to the meat of the story. Three quarters of the movie whips past before the central event, Plame’s unceremonious unveiling as a spy, happens.
The build-up is filled with nice details, like Scooter Libby’s (David Andrews) self satisfied smirk when he puts the plan to get revenge on Plame and her husband in motion, and the insight into the life of a spy who juggles a home life with international intrigue, but it feels padded. Also, director Doug Liman has made some very strange and almost unwatchable choices in regard to the camera work. His camera is a little too restless, constantly roaming, which, I suppose, is meant to give us a “you-are-there” feeling, but instead induces motion sickness, particularly in the boardroom scenes.
Performance wise, however, the movie is top notch. Watt works as Plame, and Penn is passionate, crafting an a performance so big it has it’s own gravitational pull that asks whether Wilson was really a truth seeker or simply a self aggrandizing opportunist.
“Fair Game” is a mostly interesting look at our recent past, too bad director Liman takes too long to develop the important part of the story.